This team found out in a hurry just how steep the learning curve was.
The Sheldon Huskies scrimmaged top-ranked Folsom and were taken to task, something of the norm for just about anyone trying to stall that juggernaut.
Then Sheldon opened the regular season with a five-touchdown loss to No. 3 Monterey Trail as the growing pains lingered amid promise.
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But if a five-game winning streak is any indicator, the Huskies have come of age, relying on old-school tactics such as physical line play and a lot of running, a staple for any Joe Cattolico-coached team. Not that the Princeton graduate isn’t against a deep bomb for kicks. He’s anything but dull and drab.
No. 8 Sheldon beat No. 14 Elk Grove 21-14 on Friday night in a Delta League contest in South Sacramento, making for a festive homecoming night.
“We’re young on the offensive line with four juniors, and we’ve learned as a team by baptism under fire,” Huskies offensive-line coach Dale Ellingsworth said.
The defensive line is young, too, position coach Jason Tenner said. But the group that isn’t young is the coaching staff, chock-full of gray beards with a wealth of experience, including Cattolico, his father Butch, Ellingsworth and Tenner — all head coaches at other programs before joining forces at Sheldon before the 2016 season.
Their arrival helped boost a program long deemed a sleeping giant. Sheldon has large enrollment, a nice stadium and a supportive administration.
Tyrell Smith has been a workhorse for Sheldon at running back. He powered in for scoring runs of 1 and 2 yards, the first capping the opening drive and the second making it 21-7. Smith gained three yards on fourth down at his own 34-yard line with 2:48 left in the game to keep the clock going, which was all one had to know in how much the Huskies trust the young line.
Six Sheldon players carried the ball, and quarterback Francisco Salinas provided the balance. He’s come into his own as a second-year starter. His 77-yard touchdown strike to Michael Graves gave the Huskies a 14-0 lead, and his 10-yard keeper with 1:23 left pushed the ball to midfield, allowing them to run out the clock.
Tre’von Frazier had a five-yard touchdown for Elk Grove to cut it to 14-7 and Carter Harris had a 72-yard scoring pass to Matthew Horn to cut it to 21-14.
Sheldon (5-1) plays at Davis next. Elk Grove (2-3) opened with losses to No. 5 Inderkum and Bay Area power Serra before downing Shasta and Davis. The Thundering Herd play Pleasant Grove next.