On multiple occasions this season, Elk Grove had come up just short in key moments. A botched snap with 29 seconds left on the six-yard line against Inderkum resulted in a loss to start off the season and blowing a 12-point lead in the second half against Cosumnes Oaks cost the Thundering Herd the Delta League title, which was eventually won by Davis.
Although Elk Grove failed to deliver when they needed to during the regular season, they knew the playoffs were the perfect opportunity to turn things around and have one last chance at a championship.
After upsetting both Vacaville and Cosumnes Oaks, the Thundering Herd found themselves in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division II Section Championship game as a sixth seed against ninth-seeded Whitney from Rocklin who alike Elk Grove, pulled off a few upsets to reach the championship game, including defeating top-seeded Rocklin in the second round.
As both unlikely finalists met for the Division II crown, it was clear from the get go, that Elk Grove were going to make sure they did not miss out on this opportunity like they had missed out on others previously.
The Thundering Herd put in a dominating team performance and ended up shutting out the Wildcats by a score of 35-0 to win their sixth section championship in school history and their first since 2001.
“Our kids from the beginning played at a different level and a different speed but it is hard for teams to play our offense because you don’t see it very often and our kids did a great job of coming out and executing,” said Elk Grove head coach John Heffernan.
“This feeling is like a dream almost and, when it comes down to our purpose, this championship is icing on the cake because we are building these young men’s characters and their leadership and every once in a while, when you do things right, good things happen to you and that is what happened tonight.”
Elk Grove’s triple option rushing attack was in full effect, and the usual suspects for the Thundering Herd were at the helm. Quarterback Carter Harris, as he has time-after-time this season, led the way for Elk Grove, making key reads and runs when he decided to hold onto the ball.
Elk Grove’s top rusher would lead the team in rushing once more and score four of their five touchdowns on the night, including a 90-yard run in the first quarter, which gave Elk Grove a 14-point lead at the time. In addition to Harris, running back Damian Allen was able to break loose for a big touchdown run of 59 yards, which got the scoring started on the Thundering Herd’s first possession on a night where Elk Grove only had to punt the ball once.
“I tried to make the same reads I see every game and let the line do their job,” Harris said.
“Props to the line tonight, the four touchdowns I had were on them because of the holes they made.”
As impressive as the offense was for Elk Grove, the defense may have overshadowed them. The Thundering Herd defensive line was able to apply constant pressure to Whitney quarterback Eli Brickhandler and force him into difficult throws and having to scramble, which resulted in sacks. Brickhandler is a versatile athlete who came into the game nursing a knee injury that was suffered in their semifinal game against Jesuit.
Due to the Wildcats being behind for the entirety of the game, their running game was taken out of the game, which put even more pressure on Brickhandler and his injured knee to make plays to keep them afloat.
“The defense did a tremendous job and our edge guys, in particular, did a nice job of getting to the quarterback,” Heffernan said.
“He did not have too many places to go with the ball and the kids did a good job of finishing their tackles.”
As a result of winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Championship, Elk Grove’s season will continue as they move into the Northern California Regional Playoffs next week.
“I knew we had a good football team but I didn’t know how far we could take it, but we always tell the kids that if they come together as a group, then nothing is impossible,” Heffernan said.