Close. Darn close.
If just one more of those seven Elk Grove fumbles had bounced Davis High’s way — or if an official had been more worried about football instead of housekeeping — the Blue Devils might be headed for the playoffs.
But things weren’t meant to be for the locals as The Thundering Herd escaped Ron & Mary Brown Stadium with a 17-10 season-ending victory over DHS on Friday.
The victory sends No. 3 Elk Grove (9-1, 4-1 in Delta Valley Conference) merrily on its way to the Division II postseason, where it will host Ponderosa this week.
Conversely, the Devils (5-5, 2-3) were denied their first playoff appearance since 2007. DVC champion Franklin (10-0, 5-0) earned the No. 1 seed in D-I and hosts Nevada Union. Grant, elevated to D-I, meets Burbank.
“Our guys played hard,” DHS head coach Steve Smyte said after an emotional postgame chat with his Blue Devils. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that game. We played as hard as we could for as long as we could.
“Hey, we swung our sword. We didn’t come here to lose. It’s just not our thing.”
In fact, on Senior Night, Davis had its visitors in trouble early.
After the Devils forced The Herd to settle for a 30-yard Justin Singh field goal on its first possession, Davis’ Quinn Williams outfoxed the coverage on a woeful punt from Singh deep in his own territory.
Kicking from the 20-yard line, Singh shanked the ball. Hitting at the 30 with backspin, the ball wiggled — unattended — inside Elk Grove’s 25.
Still with no company, the ball was adopted by Williams at the 22 and the speedy junior sprinted into the north end zone. Thomas May’s conversion put DHS up 7-3.
The only Devil lead of the night was short-lived as The Herd came right back with 12-play, 65-yard touchdown drive, capped by Robert Frazier’s jitterbug 10-yard run.
The Grove’s havoc-creating duo of tailbacks Robert Frazier (165 yards) and Wadus Parker (68) would gain most of their team’s 319 ground yards, but it would be sophomore back Spencer Sheff (remember that name) who would be the difference.
When defensive lineman Oscar Sepulveda ended a Thundering Herd threat by sacking quarterback Tommy Arnold on the last play before intermission (at the Davis 27), the locals went to the locker room feeling pretty good about themselves.
Up only 10-7, Elk Grove tried mightily to take control on its first third-period possession.
Sixty-five yards The Herd marched, down to the Davis 2-yard line. On the 11th play of the drive, Arnold was knocked off the ball at the snap and tackle Bailey Murray recovered just outside the goal line. It marked the fifth EGHS fumble, but the only one to land in Devil hands.
“Bailey has been our best lineman,” Smyte said in praise of his 6-foot-3, 280-pound junior. “On the defensive end of the ball, he was pretty amazing Friday. And on offense, he’s the guy we run behind. I think Bailey is a big-time player. We could see him as a center or guard at the next level.”
Murray had six solo tackles and helped on a handful of others Friday.
With Davis now buried in his own territory, a brilliant 33-yard completion from DHS quarterback Grant Dickerson to C.K. Hicks converted a third-and-11 that had Devil fans gasping for air.
On the play, Dickerson almost was sacked twice in the end zone before scrambling to his right and threading a strike to Hicks, who was encased in triple coverage at the time.
From there, Davis drove down to the 2-yard line, then it looked like Dickerson had scored a go-ahead touchdown.
But during the play, an official cited the eager Blue Devils for sideline encroachment. Warned earlier in the game for the same violation, this flag came with a five-yard penalty and a third-down restart from the 7. Winfred Roberson was bottled up on the subsequent run and DHS settled for a 10-10 tie on May’s 21-yard field goal.
The drive was the Blue Devils’ longest in nine years, but good for only for three points. The Herd struck while Davis was in disappointment mode.
Already having converted one third-and-short play on the drive, Elk Grove was faced with a fourth-and-2 at the Devil 34.
Sheff got the call this time and the emerging sophomore’s quick-hitter over Herd center Casey Whalen went all the way home for a 34-yard game-changer. Singh’s extra point would provide the final margin.
Sheff finished with 81 yards.
Still, with 10:49 left, DHS wasn’t finished.
One drive — which ended when Shaunard Harts intercepted Dickerson in the end zone — almost resulted in a Devil touchdown on the previous play, but the ball went incomplete to Kevin Sorensen, who had to attempt a difficult directly-over-the-head catch at the goal line.
“We had a couple (times) where I thought we had it,” Smyte said. “Against a good team like Elk Grove, you get that chance, you have to seize it.”
Elk Grove and Davis exchanged interceptions late in the final frame and the game ended with the Thundering Herd taking a knee at the DHS 2.
Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon, who worked as a graduate assistant at UC Davis when Smyte was the Aggie receivers coach, praised the Blue Devils for a spirited game, but added that his guys need to step it up if they’re going to go anywhere in the playoffs.
“We’ve fallen asleep at the wheel a little bit as far as losing that focus, that playoff edge,” Nixon said, alluding to last week’s 54-40 squeaker over Monterey Trail.
Austin Lampley finished the night as Davis’ leading rusher (57 yards on 14 carries) and frequent-fullback Roberson added 43 on seven carries while mostly clearing a path for Lampley. Roberson gained 751 yards with nine touchdowns in 2012.
Dickerson completed 5-of-14 passes for 119 yards, but was picked off three times. Hicks had three receptions for 80 yards.
Frazier, meanwhile, finished the regular season with 1,567 yards and 17 TDs.
“From this game, you could see how much our guys really wanted it — just how much we’re doing it for each other,” said DHS senior captain Adam King. “It didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but I don’t think anyone is ashamed of the way they played.
“I think everyone is proud and it really shows the Blue Devil spirit.”
Safety King defended four passes and made eight tackles. Brendan MacDonald led Davis with 14 stops.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.