Senior do-it-all back Ryan Robards reaches the end zone six times to lead the Thundering Herd past the host Pacers 42-7 in a matchup of state-ranked teams. It’s a result that might shake up the NorCal landscape, but will more than likely just send Grant way down in the rankings.
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You know you just witnessed something rather remarkable at an Elk Grove High football game when any Thundering Herd player is mentioned in the same sentence as Lance Briggs.
Briggs, the longtime Chicago Bears’ linebacker, is still a legendary figure at the school. And why not? In a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I final, he scored six TDs and shined on both sides of the ball when Elk Grove’s 1998 team – one of the best in section history – crushed Atwater 77-22 to cap an unbeaten season.
Current Thundering Herd head coach Chris Nixon was asked on Friday night about what he thought of senior Ryan Robards scoring six times in a multitude of ways in his team’s hard-to-fathom 42-7 win over host Grant of Sacramento.
“Yeah, considering the opponent, it’s absolutely one of the best in Elk Grove history,” Nixon said. “It’s right up there with Lance Briggs, Ryan Dinwiddie (QB) and all the others. The guy does it on offense, defense and special teams. He just did an amazing job.”
Robards, who already has been named a NorCal Player of the Week this season, also already had nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns entering Friday’s game. But what he did against a 4-0 Grant team that was higher ranked in the state (No. 8) and higher ranked locally was off the charts. And most of what he did was in the first half.
On Grant’s fifth play of its opening series, after the Pacers had picked up a couple of first downs, Robards stepped in front of a Michael Cook pass and returned the interception 65 yards for a score.
After Grant came back to tie the score on a 1-yard plunge by Cook that was set up by a great catch inside the 5-yard line by Lawrence Hardy, the Thundering Herd drove for their first score and a 14-7 lead that was capped on a 4-yard run by Robards.
As the Pacers were then attempting to match Elk Grove’s second touchdown, Robards struck again on defense. He picked up a batted pass that was ruled a lateral and went 40 yards for his third score.
The onslaught of Robards continued later in the second quarter when Grant punted after a promising drive was derailed by three straight illegal procedure penalties. Robards just had too much room after catching the punt and showed his moves on a 75-yard touchdown.
The fifth touchdown of the first half by Robards came only a few minutes later. That was on a 61-yard run from scrimmage on the second play of Elk Grove’s next series.
In the second half, any possibility of a Pacer comeback was snuffed out on the Thundering Herd’s opening possession. They took 12 plays to go 53 yards for a 42-7 lead and it was again Robards plunging in for the score from 1-yard out. The only disappointment of the night is that a possible touchdown pass by him fell short of the intended receiver a few plays earlier.
“As the scoreboard proves, it was a great night for us,” said Robards, who finished with 176 yards rushing on 23 carries to go with his two defensive touchdowns and his punt return TD. “Hopefully, we can play like this for the rest of the year.
“We watched film of them and the coaches wanted me to jump out more on their routes. I got there just in time for that first one. Grant was disciplined and they respected me and our team at the end. I respect them.”
Elk Grove’s offensive line was another dominating factor in the win. On most of Robards’ longest runs, he had large holes to run through and only had to beat one tackler. Three senior team captains anchor that group – Diego Cervantes (6-3, 275), Lau Ta’amu (6-0, 265) and Trevor Reinwald (6-4, 235) – along with senior Jacob Cornelio (6-1, 215) and junior Jon Pochop (6-3, 275).
Grant’s 1-2 punch of running backs DeShawn Collins and Mike Green also was held in check by the Thundering Herd defense. Unofficially, Collins only had nine carries for 27 yards while Green only had eight carries for 39 yards.
Going From The Hunter To The Hunted
As news of the lopsided Elk Grove win was making its way through the Friday night Twitter-verse and other scores began going final, the result will push the team into more of a favorite’s role for the upcoming SJS playoffs.
It doesn’t do much to greatly alter the landscape, however, because in winning Elk Grove becomes the frontrunner to win the Delta League title and would now be a likely participant in the D1 section playoffs (instead of D2 like last year) where Folsom lurks as the section’s top state powerhouse.
For Elk Grove to really make a big jump in the next state rankings also probably required more NorCal top teams to lose and that didn’t happen on Friday, either, especially with state No. 14 Clayton Valley of Concord defeating Monte Vista of Danville.
“It is going to be some new challenges for us,” Nixon said. “When you win a game like this, we’re now going to be the ones to become the focus of every other team wanting to beat us.”
With Ryan Robards around and healthy, it’s a good bet that Elk Grove’s going to be up for that challenge.