The rain was pouring down, Elk Grove fullback Spencer Sheff was tearfully saying goodbye to his high school football teammates as the Thundering Herd was huddled up for one last time in the south end zone of Thunder Stadium.
Elk Grove’s hopes to play in a third straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game were just dashed moments before by the St. Mary’s Rams, 23-15.
Sheff had scored both of the Herd’s touchdowns Friday night before the rain started pouring down on the artificial turf. While teammates and coaches all listened to the senior’s comments, no one seemed bothered by the fact they were getting soaking wet.
The 2014 season was over. Elk Grove finished at 10-3. For the first time in school history, they not only won ten or more games four years in a row, but they also had made the semi-finals, the final four of Division II football, in four consecutive years.
With the stands now empty and a few volunteers cleaning up the stadium hurriedly in the downpour, head coach Chris Nixon took a moment to rejoice at the fact the Elk Grove football program had progressed to this point, even in the midst of gloom that St. Mary’s had put an end to their season.
“This is truly a legacy these seniors will leave for this group, “ Nixon said. “This is a tremendous group. A lot of them played as sophomores. They’ve been a part of three Thanksgiving Day practices.”
Had the Herd overcome three first half fumbles and found a way to come back against a talented Rams defense, Elk Grove would have been in rare company in the Section championship this weekend at Hornet Stadium. The last Division II team to make the championship round in more than two consecutive seasons was the 2002-2004 Oak Ridge Trojans when they won three titles in a row.
In 1996-1998 Atwater made it to three straight Division I championship games, losing all of them, including the last two to Lance Briggs and the Elk Grove Herd.
Del Oro won three D-II titles in a row between 1992 and 1994 and then lost the 1995 championship in trying for a fourth. Going further back Ponderosa was in four straight title games between 1977 and 1980, winning two of them.
You have to go to the early days of the Sac-Joaquin Section to 1976 through 1979 when Cordova won four consecutive Division I football championships.
“Elk Grove has never been in more than two straight semis from what I’ve found,” Nixon said.
What is even more encouraging to Nixon and his coaching staff is that only two Hammerheads (offensive linemen) will graduate and he has promising starting quarterback Tyler Vanderwaal back for his junior season. Plus, speedy wide-out/defensive back Ryan Robards has another year along with guys like sophomore receiver Gavin Reinwald, who was pressed into service because of injury on Friday. He ended up catching three passes for 47 yards.
“We feel like we’re in pretty good shape,” Nixon said. “We have about half a dozen starters returning on offense, a half a dozen on defense, almost our entire offensive line, but today is more of a celebration of those seniors and what they have done.”
But after winning 46 games over the past four seasons, Nixon thinks Elk Grove will continue to ride this wave of success.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape with the guys that we have and we’ll play good football next year,” Nixon said. “We have a great crop of sophomores, a JV team that had an undefeated season, so we have some players there.”
Offensive line coach Moe Loller had to bring in sophomore Ryan Vierra to play for the first time in a varsity game Friday when starting center Trevor Reinwald badly broke his hand on practice Tuesday.
Elk Grove’s four turnovers (one interception and three fumbles) were the most by the Herd this season. They had only 95 yards total offense in the first half. The Herd rushing attack was held on only 69 yards on 17 carries in the opening two quarters.
Elk Grove did make a goal-line stand in the first quarter after Vanderwaal fumbled the snap at his own 12 yard line. Defensive tackle Sai Ta ‘amu had three tackles in that stand.
The Herd also had two interceptions of Rams’ quarterback Noah Righetti. However, the St. Mary’s signal caller passed for 244 yards on 11 completions. Three of them went for big plays that killed Elk Grove.
Elk Grove’s speedy halfback Eltoro Allen was held to just 46 yards on 12 carries by a stiff St. Mary’s front line. Manny Scott-Anderson had 53 yards on 11 carries.
Down 13-0 at half, Elk Grove took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 18 plays over 74 yards for its first TD. The drive clicked 7:54 off the clock.
Nixon, along with defensive coordinator Jeff Carlson, were talking to game officials well into halftime on the field. St. Mary’s had the ball at the Elk Grove 23 yard line with four seconds left, ran a play with a pass completed to the Herd nine. The clock still showed 0:00.4 left which gave the Rams a chance to kick a 26-yard field goal to end the half.
“The referee didn’t tell the clock operator to wind the clock on the play, but he claimed he did, so there was flip-flop stories there,” Nixon explained. “It did give them that four-tenths of a second to get that extra three points which was a big deal for us.”
After Laguna Creek left to begin playing its football games at Cosumnes River College this year, Nixon got permission to return the Elk Grove football stadium to “Thunder Stadium.” Now he’d like to name it “Lance Briggs Stadium” after the 1999 graduate who has been a perennial All-Pro linebacker with the Chicago Bears.
The start of the third quarter had to be delayed about thirty minutes when a St. Mary’s fan collapsed near the snack bar near the end of the second quarter. Cosumnes Fire paramedics at the game attempted to revive the person using CPR. The status of that person is not known.
Box Score (Final)
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Score
----------------- -- -- -- -- -----
St Mary's............ 0 13 7 3 - 23 Record: (12-1,5-0)
Elk Grove........... 0 0 7 8 - 15 Record: (10-3,5-2)
ST - EG
2nd 11:45 ST - Nicholas Hall 30 yd field goal
7 plays, 28 yards, TOP 2:06 3 - 0
07:41 ST - Karsten Lee 18 yd pass from Noah Righetti
(NicholasHall kick) 3 plays, 80 yards, TOP0:57 10 - 0
00:00 ST - NicholasHall 26 yd field goal
10 plays, 61 yards, TOP 2:28 13 - 0
3rd 04:01 EG - Spencer Sheff 1 yd run (Hunter Pentracek kick)
18 plays, 74 yards, TOP 7:59 13 - 7
03:39 ST - Stephen Gudino 67 yd pass from Noah Righetti
(Nicholas Hall kick) 2 plays, 68 yards,TOP0:22 20 - 7
4th 09:27 ST - Nicholas Hall 23 yd field goal
7 plays, 60 yards, TOP 2:40 23 - 7
00:55 EG - Spencer Sheff 2 yd run (Shaunard Harts pass)
7 plays, 72 yards, TOP 2:22 23 - 15
FIRST DOWNS................... 13 15
RUSHES-YARDS (NET)............ 28-101 38-179
PASSING YDS (NET)............. 244 99
Passes Att-Comp-Int........... 20-11-2 21-9-1
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS..... 48-345 59-278
Fumble Returns-Yards.......... 0-0 0-0
Punt Returns-Yards............ 1-17 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards......... 1-25 4-64
Interception Returns-Yards.... 1-3 2-93
Punts (Number-Avg)............ 2-43.0 2-41.0
Fumbles-Lost.................. 1-0 3-3
Penalties-Yards............... 6-66 9-89
Possession Time............... 20:39 27:21
Sacks By: Number-Yards........ 0-0 4-12
RUSHING: StMary's-Tavonne Johnson 1-60; Marcell Spady 14-51; Dewey
Cotton 4-0;Noah Righetti 9-minus 10. Elk Grove-Manny Scott-Anderson 11-53;
Eltoro Allen 12-46; Tyler Vanderwaal 5-36; Spencer Sheff 9-35; Ryan Robards 1-9.
PASSING: St Mary's-Noah Righetti 11-20-2-244. Elk Grove-Tyler
RECEIVING: St Mary's-Stephen Gudino 3-104; Demet Ferguson 3-54;
Marcell Spady1-34; Karsten Lee 1-18; Dewey Cotton 1-13; Keaton Hampton 1-10. Elk
Grove-Gavin Reinwald 3-47; Manny Scott-Anderson 3-24; Ryan Robards
1-21; Shaunard Harts 1-5; Eltoro Allen 1-2.
INTERCEPTIONS: StMary's-Khalil Hodge 1-3. Elk Grove-Shaunard Harts
1-26; Ryan Robards 1-67.
Stadium: Thunder Stadium Attendance: 1500
Kickoff time: 7:00pm End of Game: 9:55 pm Total elapsed time:
Temperature: 55 Wind: light Weather: rain