Mike Johnson could feel the tremors during warmups.
This was no seismic shift under the earth, the Franklin High School football coach understood, but he wondered and worried a bit. The rumbling above ground was the Grant Pacers charging onto the field Friday night for a Delta League opener, looking regal, swift and formidable.
The Pacers have long trotted out field-tilting, shadow-casting linemen, and there’s more of the same with national recruits in 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive left tackle Darrin Paulo and left guard Soape Tupou, no pup at 6-4, 330.
“Man, that’s a big team,” Johnson said, nodding, before kickoff, adding more praise after the Pacers, ranked third by The Bee, mauled and pancaked No. 9 Franklin 43-14 in Del Paso Heights.
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Grant (4-0, 1-0) dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball, gashing holes for Deshawn Collins, who had 143 rushing yards, including a 68-yard touchdown, and providing ample time for quarterback Donovan Brown to have the game of his life.
Brown, only 5-10 and 170 pounds but a senior who competes with a championship heart, had four touchdown passes, three to Ariyon Huff, in providing a balanced attack.
Grant set a tone on defense behind linebacker Carl Granderson, who had three of his team’s five sacks and knocked people around on special teams.
All of this from a Pacers club that still isn’t at full strength.
Grant was again without TieNeal Martin, and Deondre’ Whittington-Grays saw very limited action. The running backs and defenders are nursing nagging leg injuries. Also, emotional defensive leader Chris Atteberry, a linebacker, sat out from an ejection in the previous game against Bullard of Fresno.
Atteberry pointed at the scoreboard to mute a taunting Bullard player, then wrote a letter of apology to an appeals board, to no avail.
“We’re still trying to get healthy,” Grant coach Mike Alberghini said this week. “We have size and speed and athletes. If we put it all together, we can be pretty good.”
The Pacers have been certifiably good in beating then-ranked Burbank, two strong Fresno teams and a 2-2 Franklin program that beat Grant on this field two years ago with a blocked field-goal attempt on the last play.
The Pacers have a believer in Johnson, whose team lost to Grant last season but beat Elk Grove to forge a three-way tie for the league championship.
“We pointed up to the two championship banners we have in our gym and told our players that it’s a big deal and that’s what makes this Grant game so great,” Johnson said. “Grant is one of the most storied programs in section history. Grant single-handedly put this section on the state football map with that state championship (in 2008). That really changed everything for Sacramento football.”
That 2008 CIF State Open Division championship was a crowning moment for Alberghini, but it also marks his sixth and last section title.
In his 24th season at Grant, Alberghini said the Pacers again have that championship potential and swagger. They certainly appear to be a lock to reach the postseason for the 24th consecutive season, a Sac-Joaquin Section record.
Alberghini coaches a Grant team that looks like one of old, but the old coach also sports a new body. He shed nearly 50 pounds in the offseason in bypassing drive-thru temptations and walking by the hour with wife Mary, and he said he hasn’t felt this energized about a season in years.
“I feel great,” he said.
Brown hit Huff for scoring strikes of 30, 48 and 30 yards to stretch the field and found David Moala for a 25-yard touchdown after scrambling, twisting and firing into the end zone.
Moala also recovered a fumble in the end zone for the Pacers, who visit No. 2 Elk Grove on Friday. The Thundering Herd beat Grant 7-3 last season in one of the most physical games in regional regular-season history.
Jacob Lopez hit Kaderro Tamondong for a 5-yard touchdown and ran for a 10-yard score for Franklin, which plays Sheldon next.