Khalani Riddick

Khalani Riddick tries to avoid the tackle of Oakmont’s Peter Constant in the second half. Riddick intercepted a pass for a touchdown in the game.

Coming into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs off of back-to-back home losses to Cosumnes Oaks and Oak Ridge is definitely not what Elk Grove would have wanted. Due to their losing streak at the end of the regular season, the Thundering Herd was placed as the sixth seed in Division II and looked to put the regular season in the past and advance into the next round against 11th seeded Oakmont.

Although the Elk Grove offense got off to a slow start, they were able to turn it around, especially in the second half, and comfortably get past the Vikings 41-22 last Friday at Elk Grove High School.

“We didn’t execute very well offensively in the game but that changed in the second half and the kids really woke up,” said Elk Grove head coach John Heffernan.

“The kids did a good job of coming out and putting the clamps on them.”

Elk Grove benefited from big plays that helped propel them past Oakmont. After fumbling the opening kickoff of the game and losing possession, Elk Grove was able to force a stop of their own and score on their first play from scrimmage. Running back Hunter Hall took a toss play around the right side from 84 yards out for a touchdown, the second time this year he has scored on Elk Grove’s first play of the game.

As Elk Grove’s offense struggled to move the ball consistently early, their defense was able to pick up the slack. The Thundering Herd defensive line constantly put pressure on Vikings quarterback Hayden Abbruzzese and forced him into misplaced throws, one of which defensive back Khalani Riddick was able to intercept and return for a touchdown to give Elk Grove a 13-0 lead in the first quarter.

“Defense did a good job in the first half of keeping Oakmont down,” Hefffernan said.

“We had some penalties that gave them some first downs, and they were able to score but the kids overall did a good job.”

Once the Thundering Herd offense was able to get rolling and back to running the ball, Oakmont could not stop them. Quarterback Carter Harris was able to make great reads on the triple option and flash his quickness and agility to break off long runs of his own. Harris scored two rushing touchdowns on the night and had a third one called back due to a holding penalty, which would have been from 80 yards out.

“It was a gutsy performance from him tonight and, once he was able to get going, it really electrified the team,” Heffernan said of Harris’ performance.

“He’s not very big, so once he gets in those creases, he is hard to see and really pops out of nowhere.”

With the victory, Elk Grove will travel to third-seeded Vacaville who were on a bye this week. The Bulldogs come into the second-round matchup with an 8-2 overall record and were champions of the Monticello Empire League at 5-0. Beating a top team in the playoffs on the road is no easy feat, especially since the Thundering Herd will be down some key players.

At the end of the third quarter, with a 20-point lead, a physical altercation resulted in three Elk Grove players being ejected from the game, two of which were Elk Grove’s starting running backs Tre’von Frazier and Damian Allen. Given their involvement after a play and being ejected from the game for fighting, they are ineligible for the Vacaville game.

According to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, any player who left the sideline during the fight is out for their next game as well.

“Our motto is next man up,” Heffernan said.

“We are not going to change who we are and reinvent the wheel, so we will have to get other guys ready to go.”

The combination of Frazier and Allen has resulted in over 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.