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Frenzy In The Fog | Elk Grove Outlasts Vacaville In Playoff Classic Frenzy In The Fog | Elk Grove Outlasts Vacaville In Playoff Classic
Elk Grove Rushes For More Than 500 Yards In A Wild Shootout Win That Sends Thundering Herd Into SJS Div. II Semifinals • PICTURED... Frenzy In The Fog | Elk Grove Outlasts Vacaville In Playoff Classic

Elk Grove Rushes For More Than 500 Yards In A Wild Shootout Win That Sends Thundering Herd Into SJS Div. II Semifinals •

PICTURED ABOVE: Elk Grove junior lineman Dallas Fineanganofo (59) celebrates with teammates. (Chace Bryson photos)

Ethan Archuleta faked the hand off. He tucked the football tight to his chest and bounced quickly toward the outside running lane that the Elk Grove High offensive line had been able to create all night long. 

Archuleta planted and cut through the opening. Suddenly every Vacaville defender was behind him as he sprinted down the sideline toward an end zone he knew would be there — even if he couldn’t see it yet. 

A thick fog that rolled into Vacaville’s Tom Zunino Stadium near halftime Friday night created a surreal backdrop to a wild Sac-Joaquin Section Division II quarterfinal between the Bulldogs and Thundering Herd. 

As visibility degraded to the point that one couldn’t see the opposing sideline or grandstand, both teams traded haymakers in a thrilling fourth quarter that featured five touchdowns inside the final 10 minutes of play. Archuleta’s 74-yard run into the mist gave Elk Grove a three-point lead with 4:51 to go, but it would be Zeke Burnett’s 16-yard run with 1:24 left that would clinch the Herd’s 52-48 victory.

The win moved the No. 6 seed into the semifinals where it will host 7-seed Monterey Trail-Elk Grove after the Mustangs upset No. 2 Granite Bay 35-24. That game takes place Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.

“This was crazy,” an emotionally spent Elk Grove coach John Heffernan said. “The fog rolled in. Couldn’t see anything. It’s a good thing we don’t throw the ball. It worked out in our favor.”

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That last statement would’ve been true, fog or no fog. 

Led by Archuleta’s 225 yards and three scores, the Elk Grove rushing attack seemingly did whatever it wanted all night long. The fleet-footed, 5-foot-8 quarterback rushed for a 55-yard touchdown on the team’s first play of the game. It was the first of six Thundering Herd 40-plus yard scoring runs on the night. 

Ethan Archuleta, Elk Grove
Elk Grove quarterback Ethan Archuleta gets the play call from coach John Heffernan during the fourth quarter on Friday.

Elk Grove (8-3) averaged just over 10 yards per play en route to amassing 552 yards of offense. All but 28 yards of those yards came on the ground. The Herd’s touchdown runs went for 55, 44, 42, 66, 57, 74 and 19 yards, in that order. Archuleta had three, Burnett had two and senior Jullian Davis had two.

Meanwhile, Vacaville (8-3) averaged 7.6 yards per play on its way to producing 496 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs went the balanced route, however. Senior quarterback Ryan Vaughn completed 28 passes for 313 yards and two scores, and Darian Leon-Guerrero had 233 yards from scrimmage after rushing for 134 and catching six passes for 99 yards. 

Leon-Guerrero scored both of his rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter. His first one went for 19 yards and gave Vacaville its first lead of the game (42-38) with 6:22 left. His second touchdown came from 2 yards out and again put the Bulldogs ahead (48-45) with 2:35 remaining. 

“What a great game to be part of,” Vacaville coach Mike Papadopolous said. “We’ve got so much respect for their town and community. It’s just so difficult to stop their offense. All you can try to do is slow the darn thing down.”

Vacaville is not alone. Elk Grove opponents haven’t been too successful in slowing the Herd over the past two months. Since a 28-27 loss to Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills on Sept. 10, Elk Grove hasn’t scored less than 34 points while winning eight of its past nine contests.

But on Friday night, in the Vacaville fog, the Herd was shown that a lights-out offense nearly wasn’t enough. 

Vacaville, Football, Fog
Vacaville lines up for a play during the third quarter as the fog grows thicker.

“I can just see that thing slipping out of our fingers,” Heffernan said. “We didn’t tackle well. We dropped interceptions. Just kept giving that team extra chances, and you can’t do that against that team. They’re very good. They took advantage of the extra chances they got.”

After Leon-Guerrero put Vacaville back on top with his scoring run inside the last three minutes, Archuleta said his message to teammates was simple. 

“I just said, ‘Hey we live for these games. These are the reasons we put in the extra hours. All the extra time studying. All the extra time watching film. These are the games we live for. This is where we execute and we find out who put in the extra work.’”

The game-winning scoring drive began near midfield after Burnett returned the kickoff 52 yards. Archuleta picked up first downs with runs of 14 and 10 yards before Burnett needed just two carries to get the last 23 yards. 

The ensuing kickoff resulted in a touchback and Vacaville began its last chance at its own 20-yard line with 1:24 left and two timeouts. Elk Grove’s defense held the Bulldogs to just two yards over four plays as Leon-Guerrero was tackled for a three-yard loss on fourth down.

“They drive me crazy, but I love them,” Heffernan said when asked about his favorite part of his team’s journey to this point. “They continue to work. They’re trying to get better every day we go out to practice. And the kids, they generally love each other and it’s neat to be around. They care for one another and that’s special.”

Elk Grove, Football, John Heffernan
Coach John Heffernan addresses his Elk Grove team in the wake of its fog-covered victory.

Now the Herd turns its attention to the team that has held the mantle as Elk Grove’s top program over the past couple years. The two teams haven’t played since mid-October of 2017 when Monterey Trail won 48-7. 

With his team gathered in front him for postgame comments, Heffernan kept it simple. 

“Next week, it’s going down in the town.”

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Chace Bryson

Chace Bryson is the managing editor of SportStars Magazine. Reach him at Chace@SportStarsMag.com

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