ELK GROVE -- Atwater went into the locker room ecstatic at halftime.
After surrendering touchdowns on Elk Grove's first two possessions Friday night, the Falcons defense settled in and got four straight stops.The Atwater offense then grabbed the momentum with a 37-yard touchdown pass just before the break.
It was apparently just the wake up call the Thundering Herd needed.
Elk Grove's ground game took over in the second half chewing up most of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. Atwater couldn't slow it down and the Herd pulled away for a 42-7 victory in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 2 playoffs.
"We were really up in the locker room," Atwater coach Bob Valladao said. "We hadn't done much offensively, but the defense was playing well and we were right there in it.
"We were trying to decide if we wanted to go for a pooch kick or pin them deep, and we opted to pin them deep and make them drive.
"They did a good job. I think we were only on the field for six plays there in a huge chunk of the second half. They picked up some third downs and we just couldn't get them off of the field."
Wadus Parker was a big reason why.
The senior tailback carried the ball 35 times for 180 yards and four touchdowns, including the first two of the game.
He broke free for a 37-yard TD run on Elk Grove's first series of the game and then punched it in from 1 yard out on its second series to take a 14-0 lead.
Atwater (6-5) settled in defensively after that and started dishing out punishment.
Jojo Ochoa, Tony Romo and Armando Gauger all had some vicious first-half hits, including three sacks from Gauger.
"We went into the game knowing they were a physical team and wanting to out physical them," Gauger said. "We did a good job of it for a half. We didn't finish the way we wanted, but we played a game we were proud of."
After producing just three plays of five or more yards in the opening half, the Falcons got on the board with 23 ticks left in the second quarter. Nathan Duran heaved a pass down the right sideline that Edward Kemp made a nice leaping adjustment on and then sprinted the last 12 yards into the end zone.
Just like that it was 14-7 at intermission.
Atwater never really got a chance to capitalize on that momentum, however.
Elk Grove (10-1) marched 72 yards on the opening drive of the second half with Manny Scott-Anderson breaking a 32-yard run for a score.
The Falcons had six plays before needing to punt and the Herd were right back at it again.
They went 91 yards with their second drive of the second half, eating up almost nine minutes of clock to all but put the game away on a Parker 20-yard TD run.
Interceptions on Atwater's next three possessions helped turn the game into a rout. A 42-yard pick six made it 35-7 and another interception helped set up Parker's fourth TD run.
The game turned really ugly for the Falcons on the next series as Duran and Jonathan Reynoso were injured during the interception return. Duran was stretchered off of the field after being knocked unconscious. Atwater coaches said that the senior was moving and had feeling as he was hauled away in an ambulance.
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.