High School Sports

Pacers, Herd get physical in renewed rivalry

When these teams play, the hurt generally lasts a good long while.

Grant and Elk Grove, two of the most storied high school football programs in the Sac-Joaquin Section, have long engaged in spirited and physical, bruise-inducing contests, and Friday’s Delta League showdown was more of the same. Bodies were laid out on hard hits as seemingly every first down and touchdown was richly earned.

Ranked third by The Bee, Grant relied on its large line and surplus of backs and capitalized on five turnovers to topple the No. 2 and host Thundering Herd 26-19, the dust finally settling on the field turf when Elk Grove’s 45-yard Hail Mary heave into the end zone was intercepted.

“We beat them last year 7-3, and it was so intense and hard hitting we felt it for weeks,” Elk Grove senior running back-linebacker Spencer Sheff said. “It’s always that way with Grant. and us.”

That the teams were able to resume play and focus in front of a full house after a horrific special-teams injury was a testament to their resolve and commitment to compete for a fallen player. Elk Grove senior Julian Brown suffered a broken leg on a punt return as a blocker at midfield with 9:21 left in the second quarter. Immediately, the two rival programs were united as one. Every player on both sides dropped to a knee in recognizing the seriousness of the situation, and coaches from both sides comforted Brown.

An ambulance drove onto the field, and after about 15 minutes, play resumed.

It’s the first major injury in the series that anyone could remember.

The programs have been directly intertwined for decades, but especially since 1991, when Grant’s Mike Alberghini earned his first head-coaching victory with a 13-6 triumph at Elk Grove in a season opener. It came in the first of his nine unbeaten regular seasons by the first of 24 successive playoff teams, a section record.

Elk Grove won playoff meetings against Grant in 1997 and ’98 in storming to section Division I championships. As the state No. 1 team, Grant routed Elk Grove 61-7 in 2010, then Elk Grove won 21-14 , 24-0 and 7-3.

Alberghini called last season’s game against Elk Grove “a monster, physical game” and said his club would have to equal that effort to reverse the outcome.

To that end, Grant (5-0, 2-0) welcomed back its defensive leader in captain Chris Atteberry, who missed last week’s 43-14 victory over Franklin. The three-year starting linebacker had a first-half interception to stall a good drive for Elk Grove (4-1, 1-1).

“His toughness and intelligence, those are big for us,” Alberghini said. “He’s that kind of leader.”

Grant had success on the ground with Deshawn Collins, who rushed for 168 yards and scored on runs of 4 and 26 yards, and Mike Green, who ran hard up the middle. The Pacers received field goals of 32 and 28 yards from Ruben Garza and found balance again with quarterback Donovan Brown. The senior threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Dorrzell Hicks and set up two other scores with deft passing.

“I always appreciate Donovan,” Alberghini said. “I sometimes get upset with him because he tries to do too much, but I can’t ever fault his effort and big heart. I sometimes appreciate him more outside the game, because I’m wired that way and I’m always tough on quarterbacks. But he’s done a great job.”

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