A year ago, the Sheldon Huskies staged a late drive in South Sacramento to stun the Grant Pacers, one of the region’s storied football programs.
On Friday night in Del Paso Heights, No. 8 Sheldon did it again, and the results could lead it to a Delta League championship while ultimately bouncing Grant out of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time before any of these players were even born.
Jack Dolinar’s third field goal was the most meaningful of his young life, a 28-yarder with 21 seconds to go, and Sheldon held on for a 30-27 thriller at Rutherford Memorial Stadium.
Sheldon’s euphoria was a contrast to Grant’s feeling of mounting glum.
The Pacers are not only unranked by The Bee for the first time since the opening week of the 1991 season, they are in serious peril of missing the postseason for the first time since 1990 as their ongoing section record of consecutive playoff seasons is on the brink.
Grant is 3-5 overall and 1-5 in the Delta, which advanced seven teams to the playoffs last season. The Pacers close the regular season against winless Davis and against first-place Jesuit, the lone Delta unbeaten. Sheldon is 6-2 and 4-1.
The Pacers played hard and inspired, but old habits haunted them – penalties and turnovers – and they faced a talented bunch with a ton to play for.
Grant and Sheldon players shook hands after it was over, but someone said something at the end of that line, and emotions boiled over. Coaches, administrators, security, team leaders and a few parents raced onto the field to prevent an ugly scene. Order was restored.
Sheldon expertly drove 60 yards to win it, using mostly runs but setting up the late kick on a nifty 30-yard pass from Francisco Salinas to Eian Moore down to the Grant 11 with 1:25 to go.
Salinas also had an 82-yard touchdown on a screen play to Tyrell Smith to pull his team to within 20-13, and Taejon King barreled in for scoring runs of 2 and 31 yards to tie it at 27-27.
The unsung guys for Sheldon were the offensive line of Elias Abilez, Koby Barrett, Nick Garcia, Louie Lewis and Jack Middleton. They held their own against the massive front of the Pacers.
The Sheldon line coach is Dale Ellingsworth, a throwback sort who fancies his chopper and black helmet.
Said the coach of his linemen, “Love ’em. They’re hard workers. Every play for a lineman is like a fist fight in a phone booth. You’re going toe-to-toe on every snap.”
Grant has to go toe-to-toe the next two weeks to salvage the season.
Deshaun Pryor rushed for two scores for Grant, Eugene Williams had a touchdown run and Xavier Johnson opened the scoring with a 30-yard touchdown to Tyler Bohannon.
“We have the talent, we have the ability, but can we put it all together?” said Grant coach Mike Alberghini, the program’s head man since 1991, having won 273 games, seven section titles and 15 league championships.
“It’s been disappointing, but no one feels bad for us. We’ve got a lot of great kids here. It’s about playing together, playing hard. Our league is well equipped with good players, and they’re well-coached, and it means a hell of a lot when teams beat us.”