Monterey Trail, with its backs against the wall and needing at least one win to get into the playoffs, almost pulled off a shocking upset of Elk Grove.
“Horseshoes and hand grenades, isn’t that what they say?” Monterey Trail head coach T.J. Ewing quipped.
Instead, the Thundering Herd squeaked out a back-and-forth 54-40 win over Monterey Trail at Elk Grove-Laguna Creek Community Stadium.
In doing so, Elk Grove improved to 8-1 overall and 3-1 in league and remained one game behind Franklin for first place in the DVC.
Monterey Trail is now in a must-win situation entering Friday’s season finale against Franklin.
“Our kids are upset and that’s a good thing, they wanted to win the football game and gave the effort to do that,” Ewing said.
Trailing 41-34, Monterey Trail opened the fourth quarter with a 16-play, 80-yard drive that drained more than six minutes off the clock. Donovan Robinson’s four-yard run brought the Mustangs to within one at 41-40 with 5:51 remaining in the game.
Ewing decided to go for two, but Sterling Powell was stacked up just short of the end zone to preserve Elk Grove’s lead.
“We know they almost beat us, but coming up with a big stop on the PAT really helped,” Elk Grove head coach Chris Nixon said.
There was no doubt in Ewing’s mind about going for two instead of a possible tie.
“Absolutely, no doubt. You’re playing an away game and you don’t want to go overtime with a team at home,” he said. “We were going to get it done with that opportunity. If we had a couple more steps, we would have been across the goal-line.”
Elk Grove, and particularly Robert Frazier, made Monterey Trail pay for it. On the first play from scrimmage on Elk Grove’s ensuing drive, the senior running back reeled off a 73-yard sprint for a touchdown and a 47-40 advantage.
Kicker Justin Singh missed the extra point.
On the Mustangs’ next possession Robinson was stripped of the ball by Elk Grove’s Nico Quiamhor at the Herd 47. Frazier scored his fifth touchdown of the game on the next play, this one from 53 yards out, to seal the win for Elk Grove.
“They are special players that made the special plays when they needed to make those plays,” Ewing said of Elk Grove. “That kid (Frazier) absolutely willed them to victory. You don’t got that kind of kid and maybe the game would have gone the other way around.”
“We were going toe-to-toe the entire game,” Ewing added. “Our effort was excellent.”
Monterey Trail used a little bit of everything to stay with Elk Grove right to the end. Their first touchdown came on a fake punt with Powell running the ball out of punt formation 43 yards for the score.
After Frazier scored the first of his five touchdowns for a 14-6 first-quarter lead, the Mustangs’ special teams tied the game when Paul Gooden blocked Singh’s punt, scooped up the ball on the Elk Grove 10 and ran it into the end zone.
Robinson converted the two-point conversion to even the score at 14 at the end of the first quarter.
Elk Grove took a 20-14 lead on Wadus Parker’s three-yard run to cap a 12-play, 65-yard drive.
Powell answered when he broke free on a 77-yard gallop two plays later and, with the extra point kick by Ignacio Duarte, the Mustangs had their first lead of the game, 21-20.
Monterey Trail’s defense then forced Elk Grove to punt deep in its own territory. A bad snap to Singh in punt formation flew over his head and the Herd punter had to pounce on the ball at his own 2-yard-line.
Powell scored on the next play to extend the lead to 27-20.
Penalty flags prevented the Herd from generating a consistent flow in the first half. They were penalized 11 times for 119 yards in the first two quarters, including three consecutive holding calls on sweeps late in the first half.
“We just decided there to keep the ball between tackles,” Nixon said.
He and offensive line coach Moe Loller had a fairly long discussion with the officials on their walk to the locker room at halftime.
“They said our guys were holding on the corners,” Nixon said.
Elk Grove did catch a break when Robinson fumbled an attempted handoff and Herd defensive lineman Casey Whelan recovered it at the Monterey Trail 25 with only 1:19 left in the second quarter.
Frazier scored five plays later to tie the game at 27 at the half.
Monterey Trail got the ball first in the third quarter and right away went into a no-huddle offense. Robinson broke free on a 74-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half to put the Mustangs back on top.
Elk Grove tied the game two minutes later on Parker’s two-yard run, which capped a seven-play, 63-yard drive.
On Monterey Trail’s next possession, the Mustangs had the ball at the Elk Grove 48 and faced a fourth-and-one situation. Ewing decided to try to go for a first down rather than punt.
He had Robinson attempt a swing pass to C.J. Ramseur coming out of the backfield, but the ball was partially tipped by an Elk Grove defensive lineman slightly backwards.
Ramseur tried to catch the fluttering ball, which actually was ruled a lateral. Ramsuer wisely landed on the ball at his own 41, an 11-yard loss and Elk Grove regained possession.
That play, along with a near second blocked punt in the fourth quarter, had two huge momentum swings in Elk Grove’s favor, Ewing admitted.
“Those two plays were the two big momentum switches,” he said.
Frazier scored eight plays later – his third touchdown - and Elk Grove had the lead, 41-34, entering the fourth quarter.
Frazier finished with 217 yards rushing on 16 carries. Parker gained 178 yards on 22 carries and scored twice.
“Wadus Parker carried this team all night,” Nixon said. “He needed to have a big night and he sure did.”
The Elk Grove passing game returned Friday night after only three passes and one completion in the 17-7 loss to Franklin the week before.
“We didn’t throw the ball well at all (in the Franklin game) and we figured Monterey Trail saw that in the game film,” Nixon said. “So we wanted (quarterback) Tommy Arnold to throw the ball early and he really did a nice job.”
Arnold, who was unavailable for the Franklin game due to disciplinary reasons, completed his first three passes for 111 yards – all in the first quarter.
He finished 5-for-9 for 140 yards and a touchdown pass to Noah Letuligasenoa on Elk Grove’s first drive of the game.
Notes: Monterey Trail must win this Friday’s game at home against undefeated Franklin to at least get a shot at the playoffs. “Our last two games were must-wins and now this one with Franklin is a must-win,” Ewing said. “Kids know it and they are playing their hearts out. They are coming to play and it’s fun.” Monterey Trail, at 5-4 overall, has only one DVC win. In order to make the playoffs, a team must finish first or second in league and win at least two conference games…
Powell led Monterey Trail with 159 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries. Robinson had 101 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries…Elk Grove concludes the regular season at Davis on Friday. Blue Devils’ head coach Steve Smyte and Nixon were both assistants for Bob Biggs at UC Davis at the same time and know each other quite well. “He’s a great coach and has that program doing real well,” Nixon said of Smyte.
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