Joe Davidson

No. 4 Elk Grove dominates No. 5 Sheldon in Delta decider

Thundering Herd’s Jaden Burns (22) carries the ball during the Delta League Championship game between the Elk Grove Thundering Herd and the Sheldon Huskies at Sheldon High School in Elk Grove on Friday, November 4, 2016. The Elk Grove Thundering Herd won the game 35-0.
Thundering Herd’s Jaden Burns (22) carries the ball during the Delta League Championship game between the Elk Grove Thundering Herd and the Sheldon Huskies at Sheldon High School in Elk Grove on Friday, November 4, 2016. The Elk Grove Thundering Herd won the game 35-0. rbenton@sacbee.com

He’s as steady as they come – cool, calm and collected.

But don’t let the demeanor and good manners fool you. Jayden Machado burns to compete, to lead, to win.

With the senior left-handed quarterback leading the charge, No. 4 Elk Grove produced its best half of the season and trampled No. 5 Sheldon 35-0 on Friday night at Sheldon in a Delta League game expected to be a tussle to the finish.

Machado and crew wouldn’t have it. The Thundering Herd dominated in all facets, from the proudly-named Hammerheads offensive line that revels in the chance to drive the blocking sled all over the place in practice to a defense that has produced monstrous efforts all season to win the program’s 17th Delta League championship since 1989 and third in recent seasons under coach Chris Nixon.

Machado hit favorite target Gavin Reinwald for touchdown passes of 9, 5 and 34 yards, and he found Jonas McMillan for an 8-yard scoring toss while passing for 181 yards at in the first half, which ended 28-0. He had 313 yards for the game, completing 19 of 22 passes, including two drops.

Machado opened the scoring with a 1-yard plunge as the Herd (9-1, 6-1) impressed in the regular-season finale with the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs looming. Elk Grove lost a thriller to powerhouse Folsom in the D-I finals last season and fully expects to win it this time around. The Herd will find out its seeding – likely the top three in D-I – on Saturday afternoon.

Nixon has mentored many a fine passer at Elk Grove, including Ryan Dinwiddie, while calling plays as offensive coordinator for Herd teams that thundered to section D-I titles in 1997 and ’98. Machado makes the short list of great Herd quarterback leaders.

“Jayden is having a great year,” Nixon said. “He’s tough, gritty and makes something out of nothing on a busted play as well as anyone I’ve coached.”

And Reinwald is as good a receiver as Nixon has had, too. Reinwald has great hands, which works well with great routes and desire. The senior had seven receptions for 163 yards. He has 12 touchdown receptions this campaign from Machado, who has 25 scoring passes in 10 games and 10 in the last two contests.

Jaden Burns, just a sophomore, rushed for 88 of his 92 yards in the first half for Elk Grove, which held Sheldon to 48 yards in the first two quarters.

The Herd offense doesn’t hum without the efforts of the Hammerheads, the skilled and powerful front coached by Moe Loller, a true Hammerhead himself. Loller played offensive line at Sacramento State, where the linemen were proud to be called Hammerheads.

“Moe Loller seems to grow these guys in a lab,” Nixon said. “Just when I think the pipeline is empty, he comes up with more Hammerheads, all shapes and sizes, from Jon Pochop, the seasoned leader, to some rising junior and sophomore Hammerheads.”

Elk Grove lost 16-14 at Davis early this season on a last-play field goal, a game that served as a sobering wake-up call. The Herd has produced impressive wins since over ranked Grant (24-17), Jesuit (23-6), Monterey Trail (21-14) and Franklin (49-7).

“This team is defined by great senior leadership,” Nixon said. “Jake Bellecci, Reinwald, Machado, McMillan. They responded from the Davis loss as well as they possibly could.”

Sheldon (7-3, 4-3) will learn from this, first-year coach Joe Cattolico told his team afterward. The Huskies have already made major strides, having gone 2-8 last season to playing for their first league title in 10 years and second overall since the school opened in 1997. The win total this season is the most since the Huskies went 8-4 in 2009 under coach Ed Lombardi, and the school-record for wins is still within reach. Elk Grove went 9-3 in 2006 under Lombardi.

Sheldon will be in the D-I playoffs, as dangerous a threat as anyone given that it has wins over Monterey Trail (27-22), Jesuit (43-32) and Grant (20-14).

“Elk Grove has been the measuring stick in our school district for a long time,” Cattolico said. “In our league, there’s been a lot of picking yourself up off the canvas after a loss. Everyone’s been bloodied, hit in the face, and has had to respond and come back.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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