Monterey Trail defeats Elk Grove in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinals playoff game at Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove on Nov. 19, 2021. The Mustangs won 27-23 and will go on to play Central Catholic in the championship.
Frank Arcuri grew up with this. He watched game film as a young boy when his attention wasn’t elsewhere, and he was later a ball boy for his coaching father, Rick, and his second father of sorts in T.J. Ewing. Now, the senior quarterback for Monterey Trail High School is in his moment, still surrounded by his pop and Ewing. He is a key cog in a Mustangs machine that is now in a Sac-Joaquin Section final for the third consecutive season and fifth time in program history.
Arcuri passed for 128 yards, had a touchdown pass and kept Monterey Trail in rhythm as the focal point of the run-heavy veer offense in a 27-23 victory over Elk Grove on Friday night in a Division II semifinal matching storied Elk Grove Unified School District programs. Seeded sixth, Monterey Trail (8-5) takes on No. 2 Central Catholic of Modesto for the championship Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Hughes Stadium. Central has won a record 19 section banners, none higher than D-III.
“I was always around the game as a kid and knew I’d be the quarterback some day,” Arcuri the kid said. “We started (the season 0-5) but we didn’t give up. We all got better, kept working at it, and here we are. We outwork everybody. We’re always ready to go.” Three second-half turnovers doomed Elk Grove (8-4), which won the 2019 D-II section crown and had devoured teams down the stretch this season with a powerhouse line and speedy backs. Those elements were there against Monterey Trail in the first playoff meeting between the programs, but the Mustangs pounced on buckling Herd turnovers, and Ali Collier’s three touchdowns gave Monterey Trail its eighth consecutive victory after that 0-5 start against state-ranked teams such as Folsom, De La Salle and Clayton Valley Charter. Collier rushed for 120 yards on 17 carries and had scoring runs of 5, 1 and 12 yards. His 17-yard touchdown pass from Archuleta came on the final play of the first half for a 14-10 Mustangs lead after a penalty on Elk Grove kept the drive alive. Collier’s 1-yard score gave Monterey Trail the lead for good at 21-17, set up by his 44-yard run to the 1, and it came off an Elk Grove turnover. His 12-yard touchdown also came off a Thundering Herd fumble and pushed the Mustangs ahead 27-17 with 1:15 left in the third quarter. Just a junior, Collier has rushed for 1,465 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Ethan Archuleta hit Gio Bellecci for a 12-yard touchdown for Elk Grove with two minutes to play but the Thundering Herd ran out of time, closing out the remarkable prep careers of Archuleta, the diminutive and dynamic quarterback, and Sacramento State-bound running back Zeke Burnett. Burnett rushed for 210 yards on 25 carries and opened the scoring with a 58-yard run in a showdown of teams that predominantly run the ball.
Burnett rushed for 1,535 yards and 26 touchdowns over the season. In facing his longtime coaching friends John Heffernan and James Pale, Ewing said the experience was, “surreal” and that he was, “trippin!” He added, “This is phenomenal for our district and area football. I loved it. The fans are back. It took us a while to get going this season. We changed things in practice. Made it more fun, and it should be fun. It’s high school football.” Fun for the Arcuri duo is playing out in real time. Rick Arcuri is Monterey Trail’s offensive coordinator. He and Ewing have coached the program since it started 18 years ago as a new school. The Mustangs started 1-19 in their growing-pains start, but settled in and reached D-I section finals in 2009 and 2010. Monterey Trail had a terrific team in 2019. The group upset Folsom in the D-I semifinals by owning 40 of the game’s 48 minutes, and might have had its best team in 2020 if the season wasn’t wiped out due to the pandemic.
“Proud of all of these guys,” Rick Arcuri said. “I didn’t coach my son in youth ball, purposely, to let him find his own way. We knew if he became our varsity quarterback that we’d have to co-exist. Been proud of him since he was born. Now he’s the quarterback of this team and he has to be ready. His best quality is his even-keel. Never had to say, ‘Let’s get out of the dumps.’ He took this team to heart. It’s a great group of kids.”
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