Joe Davidson

Prep football notes: Grant experiments at quarterback with great success

Grant’s Elijah Orr (11) and Josh Wright (14) get ready in the locker room before the game as against Elk Grove on Oct. 2.
Grant’s Elijah Orr (11) and Josh Wright (14) get ready in the locker room before the game as against Elk Grove on Oct. 2. Special to The Bee

Sometimes a rout reboots a team’s competitiveness, like a swift kick to the internal hard drive.

And sometimes a personnel change jump-starts a new run.

This all could be unfolding in Del Paso Heights, and the rest of the region is now on notice. An angry Grant football team might be emerging as better, more balanced.

After getting drubbed 42-7 by Elk Grove last week, the fourth-ranked Pacers bounced back with a 34-7 triumph over upstart Pleasant Grove on Friday. After a stop-and-start first quarter on offense, coach Mike Alberghini inserted defensive standout Elijah Orr at quarterback to give Grant a new look.

It worked. But this is only part of the story.

Michael Cook was the Pacers’ starter after transferring from McClatchy. The senior found the speed of the game in Grant’s practices and games decidedly different from what he experienced in the Metropolitan Conference. Now comes Cook’s greatest challenge: How he handles this quarterback change, which might involve sharing the role with Orr, could be a key to the Pacers’ championship hopes.

Cook, from what I’ve seen and what he’s told me, wants to win just as much as his teammates, regardless of his role. He can continue to show leadership even without the ball in support of Orr, and kudos to that. Quarterbacks get pulled at all levels of the game. This doesn’t mean Cook suddenly is less important.

Orr ran for 88 yards and a touchdown and passed for two scores to ignite the Pacers, who also received 220 rushing yards and two scores from Deshawn Collins.

Orr, one of the region’s most versatile players, continues his family’s athletic tradition. He is the grandson of longtime New York Yankees scout Greg Orr, the daughter of one-time Christian Brothers and UC Davis softball standout Tia Orr and the nephew of one-time CBS and Cal football player Mark Orr, now athletic director at Saint Mary’s. Greg and Tia watch Elijah’s games with nervous anticipation, rarely sitting.

On Friday, Orr also had 12 tackles and a sack and forced a fumble. He spoke like a leader after the Elk Grove loss, vowing a renewed team focus and adding, “I’ll do anything to help us get better. That’s the job for all of us.”

Referee protest – Some 60 area high school referees did not work Friday’s games as a protest to express unhappiness with the leadership of the Northern California Officials Association. A tentative accord was reached earlier Friday, but it was too late for some referees to accept their assignments.

Many games had four-man officiating crews as compared to the normal five-man crews, which are expected back this week. Both sides will continue to work on issues, I’m told. Most referees declined to speak on the record, fearing retaliation from assigners and sending anonymous emails to vent.

Referees and members of the NCOA board met at last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section board of manager’s meeting to share concerns and thoughts.

Said section spokesman Will DeBoard, “They were having a tiff, and the ones potentially really hurt by all of this are the kids who play the football games. The NCOA has a lot of internal issues, and a group of officials are not happy with the board. We’re not directly involved, but once a silly internal squabble affects our schools and our kids, that’s when we get angry.

“Both sides clearly have problems, and it’s pretty deep-seeded and it became public on Friday night (with a lot of four-man crews).”

One referee who spoke on the record was Hal Steinback, a retired teacher and coach from Del Oro who has a reputation as one of the region’s finest officials. He was part of a five-man crew that worked the Elk Grove-Jesuit game.

“This is why we’re here – the kids, the experience, to enjoy the games,” Steinback said. “We all need to remember that.”

High praise – Jesuit coach Marlon Blanton heaped unique praise on Elk Grove star Ryan Robards.

In watching the senior dismantle Grant on Oct. 2 with six touchdowns – on offense, defense and special teams – Blanton concluded, “Wow. He’s a dude. He’s a dude, a dude, a dude. He’s just awesome.”

On Friday, Robards ran for 199 yards and three scores in the Thundering Herd’s 63-14 rout of Jesuit. Elk Grove has a lot of dudes, actually: the “Hammerhead” offensive linemen, the team’s foundation; wide receiver Gavin Reinwald; emerging quarterback Jayden Machado; and defensive leaders such as Jake Bellecci, Lau Ta’amu and Dylan Eldred.

More Jesuit – The Marauders are reeling again after their second blowout loss in three weeks.

After falling to Pleasant Grove 48-9, Jesuit bounced back with a 42-26 win over Davis. The Marauders (3-3, 1-2 Delta League) need at least two league wins to have a shot at the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs with games against Sheldon, Franklin, Monterey Trail and Grant remaining. At least four Delta teams will make the playoffs.

“We have to go back to the basics,” Blanton said of correcting turnovers, stalled drives and defensive miscues and overcoming a rash of season-ending injuries. “But the key word is still ‘fun.’ It’s still fun to me. I love the competition. I don’t like getting my butt kicked, and we’ll get better.”

Tall company – Kings first-round pick Willie Cauley-Stein stopped by the Inderkum-Woodland game in Natomas, not far from his NBA home, Sleep Train Arena. Inderkum celebrated homecoming with a 34-7 win.

Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins has attended Grant football games and several area basketball games, telling me last winter at one event, “That was me not too long ago. Loved my high school experiences.”

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