The bus ride back from Yolo County last week was dreadfully long, and deadly quiet.
That’s what happens when a powerhouse football program expected to roll a team it has owned for more than a decade comes up flat and is derailed.
On Friday, the sprint across the field to acknowledge home supporters reaching for them in the stands was a joyous one.
That’s what victory can do.
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Bee-ranked No. 6 Elk Grove High School got back on track in the early Delta League schedule with an impressive 24-17 victory over No. 2 Grant on Friday night at Thunder Stadium, serving notice that this is indeed a championship caliber group.
This was not the same Thundering Herd bunch that was stymied and stalled seven days earlier at Davis, which registered a 16-14 upset. Elk Grove coaches challenged players to up their game, to take this personal, and they responded like the defending Delta titlists they are.
Jayden Machado passed for just 98 yards for Elk Grove, but they were efficient and effective yards. He hit Gavin Reinwald for first-half touchdowns of 5 and 20 yards, and he found a tip-toeing Jonas McMillan in the corner of the end zone on fourth down from 8 yards out to account for the final score. That came with 8:24 to play in the latest thriller of a game between programs that have engaged in these sorts of showdowns against each other since the 1986 playoffs.
Hunter Petracek’s 22-yard field goal with 11 minutes to go put Elk Grove up for good at 17-14. Zion Thomas rushed for 128 yards for Elk Grove (4-1, 1-1) and the defense held an explosive Grant team largely in check. Grant is 4-1 and 1-1.
“Every game with Elk Grove is physical, and a lot of times it comes down to the end,” Grant coach Mike Alberghini said. “It’s the DNA in both of our teams, and sometimes it comes down to the final moment.”
Elk Grove’s Hammerhead linemen under hammerhead coach Moe Loller came to work and earned game balls for handling Grant’s enormous defensive front.
Those linemen, guys who relish driving a block sled across the grass turf near the football field during the week, include: Evan Gatbonton, Roger Monroe, Jon Pochop, Manuel Ricci and Ryan Vierra.
“They were fantastic,” Machado said of his line and his defense, and his team in general. “We really cracked down this week in practice, on everything. It paid off, and it feels good.”
Elk Grove had its hands full with Lawrence Hardy but shouldn’t feel too bad. Hardy gives everyone fits. He might be the quickest player in the region.
The senior is certainly one of the region’s most versatile and explosive players. He had a 75-yard fumble recovery in the second quarter and a moment later pulled in a 25-yard touchdown from Cam Davis to quickly transform a 14-0 hole into a tie game heading into the half.
Sox Lee cut Elk Grove’s lead down to 24-17 with a 22-yard field goal with 58.1 seconds to go, but George Spithorst recovered the onside kick for the Thundering Herd.
Herd coach Chris Nixon praised his coaching staff and team. A loss, he said, can lead to good things.
“This gets us back on track,” Nixon said. “You can learn a lot from a loss, and I think this will work wonders for us. I’m proud of pour leaders and our offensive line. We had guys who were outweighed by 150 pounds. We have 170-pound guards and a 170-pound center going against guys who are 330. Incredible job.”