With two weeks left in the regular season, both Cosumnes Oaks and Elk Grove had everything to play for. Coming off of a 60-13 victory over Franklin, the Thundering Herd’s mission all week was an easy one to comprehend, just win.
A victory over the Wolfpack last Friday at home meant Elk Grove would clinch the Delta League and find themselves in a good spot come playoff time.
Although, like Elk Grove, Cosumnes Oaks had the same goal in mind. After a disappointing loss to Franklin 14-7 three weeks ago, the Wolfpack still found themselves in the driver’s seat in the Delta and could see themselves as champions if they could win their last two games against Elk Grove and Davis.
As both teams had everything to play for, it was the traveling Wolfpack that would overcome a poor first half and score 23 consecutive points in the second half to beat Elk Grove 23-12 last Friday at Thunder Stadium and set themselves up for a shot at a Delta League championship this week.
“The kids came out in the second half and channeled all of our energy and we got rolling and we came out with a win,” said Cosumnes Oaks head coach Andrew Bettencourt.
The first half was about as bad as they come offensively for Cosumnes Oaks. The Wolfpack committed three turnovers and numerous illegal formation penalties which stalled any progress they were making offensively. Cosumnes Oaks even had a snap go over punter Kevin Duarte’s head and into the back of the end zone for a safety in the second quarter.
Even though the offense, which normally is the talking point of the Wolfpack could not get going, their defense made plays and limited Elk Grove’s offense from ultimately putting the game away early.
Off three turnovers, the Thundering Herd were only able to score five points and take what was reminiscent of a baseball-like 5-0 scoreline into halftime knowing it could have been much more.
“That was huge and those missed opportunities could have changed the game,” said Elk Grove head coach John Heffernan.
“It was poor execution on our part and we had a few missed reads and opportunities but credit to Cosumnes Oaks for playing hard and playing fast.”
After Carter Harris scored on Elk Grove’s first possession of the second half on a 65-yard touchdown run, the Thundering Herd looked well on their way to a victory and Delta League title. Until, all of the momentum swung in Cosumnes Oaks’ favor midway through the third quarter.
On fourth and goal, quarterback Anthony Grigsby Jr. was able to find his tight end Moses Oladejo for a seven-yard touchdown pass to cut Elk Grove’s lead back to five. Then, a bad pitch from quarterback Carter Harris to Hunter Hall resulted in a safety for the Wolfpack. Cosumnes Oaks would then score on its ensuing possession on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Grigsby to wide receiver Branden Jennings, the first of two touchdown passes Jennings would catch to complete the comeback.
“Down by five I asked the kids in the locker room if that is all they had out there and they told me they had something left and they showed it,” Bettencourt said.
“No discredit to Elk Grove but our defense played lights out knowing the offense needed to get some things going, and when you are losing you don’t bring your team down, you build them up.”
Once Cosumnes Oaks had the lead, Elk Grove was not able to do what they do best, which is to run the football. Needing to score quickly meant the normal Thundering Herd power rushing attack was out of the playbook, and Harris and his receivers were unable to connect throw the air to get Elk Grove back into the game.
“Cosumnes Oaks made things tough for us but we did not do a good job blocking and did not do a good job on the perimeter, which we normally execute on,” Heffernan said.
Apart from Harris’ long touchdown run, Elk Grove struggled to run the ball effectively all night. The Thundering Herd was without running back Tre’Von Frazier who missed the game with a leg injury. Frazier this season is averaging 17 yards per carry and is a key member of Elk Grove’s triple option attack.
“It hurts to get this close and we put ourselves in this position and to not bring our best is what is the most disappointing,” Heffernan said.
Elk Grove will host Oak Ridge in a non-league regular season finale with major playoff implications in play. A victory over the 7-2 Trojans could sway the CIF into giving Elk Grove a much better seed than a loss would.
“It is going to be a tough game next week and we need to get back on track and get our rhythm back,” Heffernan said.
With the win and Davis’ 47-21 victory over Franklin, this week’s matchup between Cosumnes Oaks and the Blue Devils means the winner will capture the Delta League.
Davis comes in at 8-1 this season with their only loss coming to Elk Grove on Sept. 20.
“This is hands down one of the toughest leagues and we exhibited that when we played Franklin,” Bettencourt said.
“By our first week of practice, every kid had a Delta League title in mind, and every day and game we have a wall in front of us and we have to find a way to get around that wall, and I’m confident in the kids and that we can do that again.”