Luke Zardzin carries the ball for Prospect. (photo by Alexis Esparza)

Rick Lytle

Hearing a score of 49-38 likely brings thoughts of flashy catches, long touchdown passes and cornerbacks left in the dust. While those were present at times in this MSL East clash between Prospect and Elk Grove, the story behind a combined 87 total points was not the passing game but the running game. Prospect and Elk Grove combined for 613 total rushing yards on 87 total carries, with 9 of the 12 touchdowns coming from the ground game.

Each team was led by their senior, Division 1-bound running back. For Elk Grove, this was Ian Ridge, who had 47 carries for 319 yards and four touchdowns. For Prospect, this was Luke Zardzin, who had 21 carries for 191 yards and four touchdowns in Prospect’s 49-38 victory over Elk Grove on March 26.

“Me and Ridge have been playing against each other for a long time,” Zardzin said. “I know he’s a good player, and we knew it was going to be a battle.” 

Prospect head coach Dan Deboeuf had a simple description of Zardzin’s performance.

“He’s a stud; he’s an absolute stud,” Debouef said. 

After a back-and-forth first half which saw Prospect take a 29-20 lead into halftime, the third quarter was the turning point in the game. To open the second half, senior Noah Marx had a 90-yard kickoff return that electrified both the Prospect sideline and the socially distanced fans at George Gattas Memorial Stadium. After the Prospect defense forced a Grenadiers punt, Marx was able to find the endzone once again, this time on an 11-yard touchdown pass from senior Gary Moeller. Less than four minutes into the second half Prospect had quickly jumped out to a 42-20 lead. 

The Marx-Moeller connection was the key to the passing game for the Knights. Of Moeller’s 178 passing yards, 79 went to Marx, and of Moeller’s 13 completions, six went to Marx. Additionally, both of Moeller’s touchdown passes were to Marx. 

However, after Prospect jumped out to a 22-point lead, Elk Grove didn’t fold. On Prospect’s next offensive possession, the Elk Grove defense stepped up and forced Prospect’s first punt of the game. Then, for Elk Grove’s first and only completed pass of the game, Ian Gaskill connected with Joshua Bilodeau for a 63-yard touchdown to bring the score to 42-26 with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter. 

However, another Zardzin touchdown on a three-yard rush before the end of the third quarter to extend Prospect’s lead to 23 points combined with Elk Grove’s slow-paced, run-heavy offense hindered a fourth quarter comeback. 

After a Ridge touchdown to open the fourth quarter and bring Elk Grove back within three possessions, the Grenadiers got the ball again with 10:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. A 14-play, seven-minute drive was capped off with a two-yard touchdown rush from Ridge and cut Prospect’s lead to 49-38, but the long, methodical drive that included just one pass attempt left under three minutes remaining on the clock. 

While Prospect’s defense had settled in enough by the end of the game to drain out the clock, it was the Elk Grove offense who had the upper hand to begin the game. On just the second play from scrimmage, Ridge broke out for 55 yards, and just four plays later, punched the ball in for a one-yard touchdown run and the early 6-0 Elk Grove lead. The first half was marked by burst plays like these, as each team’s offense responded to the other, with just one punt in the entire half. 

Prospect is 2-0 to begin the season for the second straight year. The Knights will play their final home game of the regular season against the Hersey Huskies in their upcoming game on April 1. The Huskies are also 2-0, and the game will have major implications for control of the MSL East. 

“My freshman year, [the varsity team] was 3-6, and now we’re starting to battle for the conference,” Zardzin said. “I think we’re ready to take the next step, but we’re going to have to get better over [this next] week because we’re playing a really good Hersey team.”