Chris Nixon is a quarterback to the core.
He played the position at Nevada Union High School 30 years ago and mentored some fine passers at Elk Grove during the dominating championship runs in the late 1990s and the 2000s as offensive coordinator.
And Nixon, the Elk Grove head coach since 2008, has a nifty young passer in the wings now in Tyler Vander waal, who has size, talent and potential. But for now, Vander waal’s duty is pretty specific: Hand off and get the heck out of harm’s way.
With perhaps the Sac-Joaquin Section’s most prolific and versatile backfield, Elk Grove offered up a three-man attack against Wood on Friday night and found little resistance, leading to a 59-34 triumph in a second-round Division II contest at Thundering Herd Stadium.
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Eltoro Allen, among Elk Grove’s fastest players ever, raced for 193 yards on 18 carries and had touchdown runs of 22, 49, 1 and 52 yards.
Manny Scott-Anderson, a power back with burst, chugged for 154 yards on 15 carries, blasting into defenders, spinning and pulling away for scoring romps of 27 and 40 yards.
And Spencer Sheff opened and closed the Herd scoring, belying his brutish interior-game nature with breakaway runs of 27 and 58 yards. He had 107 yards on seven carries as the Herd rumbled for 538 rushing yards.
“We’re all close, and we love to play for each other,” Scott-Anderson said this week. “Our guys, we feed off of each other. Any one back can break it at any time, and we grow stronger when we work together.”
Wood countered with quarterback Marcus Howard, who passed for 338 yards and five touchdowns, three to Roddrick Douglas, but the Wildcats of Vacaville were outnumbered in bowing out at 8-4.
Outnumbered by the Herd backs and five more in the “Hammerheads,” otherwise known as the offensive line of Trevor Reinwald, Lau Ta’amu, Sai Ta’amu, Diego Cervantes and Joseph Maniscalco plus tight end Jake Bellecci.
And as a wing, Ryan Robards also enjoys downfield blocking. The Hammerheads are coached by Moe Loller. Looking the part of throwback lineman, as wide as a deep freezer, Loller played in the trenches at Sacramento State, where linemen gleefully called themselves “Hammerheads.”
“It’s a no brainer for us – run the ball,” Nixon said. “This is the best trio of backs we’ve had at one time. They love to block for each other.”
Allen has longtime Herd fans, coaches, fans and media wondering if he isn’t the fastest back in a gold helmet since James Kidd set section rushing records from 1989 to 1991, including the 13-1 section D-I title team of 1991, when he was The Bee’s Player of the Year. Allen has rushed for 1,165 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Scott-Anderson is a two-year varsity starter and Sheff a three-year veteran who also plays linebacker as what Nixon calls “the heart and soul” of the defense. Sheff was the lead back earlier this season but was moved to fullback because he craves contact and it diversified the Herd attack.
So there’s Sheff, an honors student, reveling in launching into the chest of foes to spring Allen and Scott-Anderson.
“Spencer wants a Hammerheads T-shirt,” Loller said. “I don’t know about that. Maybe. He is pretty good, though.”
Nixon said Sheff’s willingness to switch from lead runner to grunt back speaks of the Herd’s selfless, team-first attitude. A week ago, as Elk Grove rolled past Vintage of Napa in the second half of a playoff opener, the Herd trio of backs rooted on the Elk Grove reserves.