Jr. Zebras fight back to salvage split with Elk Grove

Jr. Titans in town Saturday
By: Greg Easter/News Messenger Contributor
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ELK GROVE _ The Lincoln Jr. Zebras opened the 2012 season against non-league opponent Elk Grove’s Jr. Thundering Herd with the two organizations settling for two wins and two losses apiece, last Saturday. MITEY MITES In the 9 a.m. matchup, the Jr. Zebras went up against a squad of “X” men and battled to the final whistle. There is no score kept for Mitey Mites “X” men are players over the weight limit but within the 6-8 age range. They can only play on the offensive or defensive lines. Lincoln’s defense was led by Caden Noonan and Caleb Bacus. Noonan also did the rushing for the Jr. Zebras and managed to squeeze out yardage against the larger Jr. Herd. Noonan broke open one run and rambled for 72 yards and a touchdown. JR. PEEWEES The Jr. Herd came back with thunder in the 11 o’clock contest to slip by the Jr. Zebras 14-13. With high hopes, the Jr. Zebras jumped out to an early 13-0 lead. The scores came on long runs by Malachi Nelson and Nick Miller. The defense was led by Seth Sampson and Grady Manley on the inside and assisted by Zach Hatten, Nick Burns and Deven Brown on the outside. Miller provided safety support. Quarterback Tommy Turner was able to move the ball in the second half but the Jr. Zebras couldn’t find the end zone. Elk Grove sprung two long runs for TDs and kicked a two-point conversion to eke out the one-point victory. PEEWEES In a game moved from 1 p.m. to 5, the Jr. Zebras PeeWees provided the nightcap with a solid 20-0 win. The tremendous defense supplied by Antonio Nevarez, Ethan Suchomel, Michael Sargent, and Alonzo Anglada didn’t allow the Jr. Thundering Herd to score a point. In the defensive backfield, Luke Wiley had a sideline theft and Nevarez added another interception on an acrobatic one-handed catch. On offense, the Jr. Zebras were in synch chewing up ground on the running of Nevarez, Suchomel, and Ernie Cuevas. Quarterback Kyle Easter then struck initial pay dirt by hitting Suchomel with a pass. Easter maintained his hot hand by finding Cuevas behind the defense for a TD toss. Cuevas put the cap on the scoring with a nice run off left end. JR. MIDGETS Last year’s defending champions as PeeWees, the Jr. Midgets picked up where they left off using efficient offense and a smothering defense to hand the Jr. Herd a 26-12 loss. Coached by Dana Graham, the Jr. Midgets’ first score was set up on a blocked punt by Tyler Eslinger. Ryan Graham then carried the freight around right end to give Lincoln a 6-0 lead. The Jr. Zebras deployed a four-quarterback system using Graham, Eslinger, Joey Rocha, and Preston Eklund to move the ball downfield. After getting it to the 1-yard line, Eklund snuck it in for the second score. Eklund then upped the score to 20-0 on a long TD run and put the game on ice. A stout defense led by Matt Brown and Zach Eutsey forced Elk Grove to repeatedly turn the ball over on downs. The home club wasn’t able to score until late in the game when the contest was out of reach. Stephen Berlenghi set up the final touchdown by picking off a Jr. Herd pass. Receiver Riley Meyer got behind the Elk Grove defense to haul in a 72-yard bomb for the final score of the game. MIDGETS In a game actually played earlier in the day, the Jr. Zebras had to go up against last year’s Midgets’ champions. Laboring under a hot afternoon sun, the Lincoln club was defeated by a 25-0 score. Although Chad Bagwell and Pablo Miller helped anchor a strong defense on the inside early on, the offense was unable to help. The adage “defense wins championships” was evident as the Jr. Zebras had a tough time moving the ball on Elk Grove. In one series, the Lincoln defense put up a solid goal-line stand only to have it result in a safety after the Jr. Zebras took over the ball. The clubs went into the locker room with the Jr. Herd leading 9-0. Lincoln came out and went to the air with Isaac Adams and Charles Middleton throwing the ball. Receiver Joseph Flores made some good gains but couldn’t get it across the goal line. Lincoln opens northern division Sierra Valley League play this Saturday against Antelope at the Edward Alexander Grey Sports Complex on the Lincoln High School campus. The games begin at 9 a.m. and continue every two hours through the Jr. Midgets. The Midgets will take part in the “Battle for Veterans” event at Del Oro High School. There the Lincoln Midgets will play the Jr. Titans at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. _ Greg Easter is a coach and contributor to News Messenger Sports