Joe Davidson

Hitting the weights pays off: Monterey Trail cruises to first 11-0 start in rout of Pitman

It all starts in this space, out of the public eye, athletes pumping iron in a sweat box stashed on the side of the campus gymnasium.

The weight room at Monterey Trail High School offers up all the smells and charm of an old muffler shop, and the sweat that is poured here is a driving force as to why the Mustangs have been so gritty, formidable and fun over the years.

The taskmaster coach is T.J. Ewing, a bear of a man who doesn’t mind lifting a bit these days to keep in shape, and to turn heads of his players who admit, “dude’s still got it!”

Looking rested, ready and eager for more, the No. 2-seeded Mustangs battered Pitman of Turlock 63-7 on Friday night at Mark Macres Stadium in Elk Grove in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I quarterfinal that was expected to be much closer.

Pitman came in at 10-1 and was sent home feeling every bit of Monterey Trail’s complete-team effort – a relentless running game, a defense that hammered away and a special teams unit that turned the game early.

Viktor Oliver told anyone who asked this week on campus that he would score three times on Friday. He was off. The powerhouse senior scored four times on runs of 93, 7, 3 and 25 yards and had 145 yards for the game. Oliver’s 93-yarder is the second-longest scoring run in program history.

Eli Mirza had a 65-yard kickoff return to the end zone, Jehiel Budgett sizzled on scoring runs of 52 and 39 yards, and Prophet Brown raced in from 79 yards for the Mustangs, who stormed to the program’s first 11-0 start since opening in 2004.

In the mix was quarterback Zach Larrier, who again kept the Mustangs in fast forward, including a 52-yard scoring burst. He even hit Andre Crump for a 12-yard pass after Crump fell on the route and was still on his back. Larrier’s 94-yard scoring run earlier this season against Paraclete of Lancaster is the longest in program history.

The Mustangs will welcome No. 3-seeded Oak Ridge in a semifinal next Friday. Oak Ridge eliminated Turlock earlier Friday night.

The coming days for Monterey Trail will include more weight room time to lift, to condition, to study film, to discuss the season goals.

“One hundred percent of our work starts here,” Ewing said before the game in the weight room, which was tidy. “Strength and conditioning is our No. 1 priority. Have to have it to be a good high school team. We like to say we prehab before rehab – be prepared before the action.”

Pitman had some moments early, including Treyton Fair hitting Denzel Steckwren for a 53-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 7-7, but then things started to snowball. The Pride tied a school record for victories in a season, matching the 10-2 team of 2011.

Monterey Trail expected a tight game, and had been anticipating a close contest for a change. The Mustangs have gone largely unchallenged this season especially in Metro League play, where they blasted all comers to the point of running clocks.

This game was also a running clock affair, starting in the fourth quarter. “We’ve been ready to play for the last six weeks,” Ewing said of anticipating a game to the wire. “We know now we’ll get everything we want.”

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