Thundering Herd do their part in setting up matchup of 13-0 unbeaten, state-ranked teams in CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship by defeating state-ranked Oak Ridge.
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As many Elk Grove supporters surrounding the players were frantically looking for updates from Folsom’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal against St. Mary’s of Stockton, the Thundering Herd players just knew they’d be playing another strong opponent in next week’s final.
“Honestly, no it doesn’t matter to us,” said senior running back Julius Fullah, who showed in the team’s 30-18 win over Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills Friday on its home field in the other semifinal that there’s more to the offense than just record-breaking Ryan Robards. “Either team is going to be tough. We’ll just be honored to be a part of it.”
There was a good reason that Elk Grove’s triumph over Oak Ridge was completed almost 30 minutes before Folsom-St. Mary’s. That’s because the Stockton squad was leading in a scorefest type of game 42-35 heading into the fourth quarter and may have won instead of lost 56-49 were it not for a lost fumble on Folsom’s 1-yard line.
Elk Grove supporters also know all to well about either of those other two semifinalists. Folsom is the reigning king of Sac-Joaquin football with a state-leading 29-game win streak and will be fourth in next week’s Cal-Hi Sports state rankings. St. Mary’s also happens to be the team that handed the Thundering Herd their last loss in last year’s SJS D2 semifinals.
“That’s been a key to this year is that the kids have done a great job of playing one game at a time,” said Elk Grove head coach Chris Nixon, whose team will be sixth in next week’s state rankings. “We’ve had to spend very little time refocusing on the next game.”
Another key, of course, has been Robards running behind a cohesive and big, bruising offensive line. He didn’t have the breakaway runs when watched the first time in Elk Grove’s 42-7 win over Grant of Sacramento, but moved the chains and finished with 204 yards on 40 carries and scored his 49th and 50th touchdowns of the season in addition to kicking a 42-yard field goal.
Oak Ridge entered the night at No. 24 in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings, moving up last week after winning in the quarterfinals. The Trojans’ only two losses before Friday were to Reed of Sparks, Nevada (unbeaten heading into Saturday’s Nevada state final vs. national powerhouse Bishop Gorman) and to Folsom. They also will head into the postseason knowing they beat both teams – Del Oro of Loomis and Rocklin – that will be playing in next week’s Division II section final.
Trailing 13-3 at halftime, Oak Ridge took the opening drive of the third quarter for a score on a 43-yard screen pass from Notre Dame-bound QB Ian Book to Alex Voege. The Trojans then got a rare stop of the Elk Grove offense and had the ball with a chance to take the lead.
That’s when Elk Grove reaffirmed its dominance up front by forcing two straight three-and-outs on defense while the offense scored on Robards’ field goal and on a five-yard pass from QB Jayden Machado to a diving, somersaulting Jonah McMillan.
Oak Ridge didn’t score again until there was 2:54 left on a TD pass from Book to Brock Martin that cut the lead to 30-18, but Elk Grove recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt and ran out the clock.
“The key for tonight was our stingy defense,” Nixon said. “To hold that offense with that quarterback to essentially a touchdown and field goal was a great job. Offensively, we had to overcome a few penalties but got scores when we needed.”
Book passed for 244 yards to complete a stellar career for the Trojans. Just as when he was seen for the first time as a sophomore, his ability to throw accurately and with power on the run may take him far.