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California kids put on show at 'home'


Check out photos from Sunday's game as the Broncos renew their rivalry with the Raiders.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- **You can't hold it against C.J. Anderson and Julius Thomas that they were childhood fans of the Broncos' historic rivals.

Both Northern California natives, Anderson (from Vallejo) and Thomas (Stockton) grew up attending games at the Coliseum and cheering on the silver and black.

"Some of my earliest memories around the game of football happened there," Thomas said during the week leading up to Sunday's game. "Waking up early, heading out from Stockton before the sun's up, going to get that spot ready for the tailgate, spending some time throwing the football around with your brother, dad and cousins and stuff like that."

"Jeff George, Jeff Hostetler, Rich Gannon, I mean Tim Brown, Jerry Rice...Some really good guys came through there and it was fun to watch."

Anderson offered a similar perspective: "Growing up a Raider fan, and sitting in the stands, just like a bunch of fans today, I got to see Tyrone Wheatley make plays, Charlie Garner, Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown."

"Just to get on the same field as them and have a productive game was just special."

And what a productive game it was for the pair.

In their "home" stadium, Anderson and Thomas went on a spree that quickly doused the hopes of local fans, collectively racking up 226 total yards and three touchdowns. The three scores happened in a span of 10:53 between the end of the first half and the middle of the third quarter, helping pull the Broncos from a 10-6 deficit into a 34-10 lead.

Anderson provided the first and certainly most important touchdown, turning a rushed dumpoff on third-and-8 into a 51-yard catch-and-run with a tremendous individual effort. He turned to see the ball coming his way before he "was even halfway into my route," snagged it with one hand, turned upfield and broke out the Madden jukestick to leave a number of defenders in his wake. With good downfield blocking from Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, Anderson scooted into the end zone to give the Broncos' offense the boost it needed. As if that huge play wasn't enough, Anderson also picked up 90 yards on 13 carries (6.7 average), including runs of 12, 16, 16 and 17, and added three other catches for 22 yards.

The second-year back guessed there were 40 or more of his friends and family in the stands to witness what turned into a career day, which undoubtedly made the experience more special.

"Always," he said with a big smile on his face. "I love playing at home. I love road games and then I love playing at home so it's like I got my ice cream and my cake at the same time."

"I've got a bunch of family who wants to see me and who knows how they're going to act right now, but I'm just trying to soak this all in."

After Anderson kickstarted the Broncos' explosive attack, Thomas didn't take long to start pounding the nails into the Raiders' coffin.

Early in the third quarter, the Broncos faced a third-and-2 from the Oakland 10-yard line, trying to avoid a third red-zone field goal in as many tries. Peyton Manning found the big tight end on a quick slant and Thomas used his power to waltz into the end zone at the south end of the stadium, right in front of the infamous Black Hole crowd. Thomas revelled in the moment, offering a dance in front of the jeering fans before finding his family in the corner and giving them the TD ball.

After a quick three-and-out from the Raiders' offense, Manning and Co. marched back down the field before encountering a fourth-and-1 from the 32. Hustling to the line, Manning faked to Ronnie Hillman as Thomas sold the run fake and broke outside, finding himself wide open and cruising to the end zone behind a block from Emmanuel Sanders. The score was Thomas' 12th of the year, tying the franchise-best for a tight end in a single season (which he set last year) with seven games to go, and also equaling the most receiving touchdowns through nine games by any player in NFL history.

"It's unbelievably humbling just to kind of be reminded where you came from," Thomas said. "Sitting up there in those stands and watching guys come out here and have big games, guys you looked up to, and wonder what it's like to have that feeling that they had, to take that field."

"[To] kind of get a different angle on it now, and be down there on the field playing in front of friends and family, it was really humbling. I feel blessed."

While Anderson's and Thomas' performances took center stage, there were other hometown heroes playing in front of loved ones who had themselves a nice day as well.

T.J. Ward, who grew up in San Francisco, racked up seven tackles and a quarterback hit while also nabbing an interception of Derek Carr, which set up the Broncos' final touchdown of the day and squelched any hopes of a late rally.

Likewise, Modesto, Calif. native Isaiah Burse had a busy day, fielding eight punts, including four fair catches and four that he returned for 52 yards. He offered up returns of 14 and 21 yards and also had a 30-yarder wiped out by a penalty. Even without those 30 yards, the healthy 13.0-yard average and no bobbles or fumbles is exactly the sort of day coaches hope for from the rookie.

"I was excited all week and to finally get to come out here and see my family members and hear them cheering for me," Burse said. "...I think the guys were excited to go out and see their families and we've got one more in San Diego, so we may possibly get to see our families again."

That opportunity would certainly be a welcome one for players, but that each already came through in front of dozens of relatives sporting their jerseys on Sunday is plenty rewarding. Though Thomas said he couldn't really soak it in until after the game, he noted that the experience is one he'll always cherish.

"It's something, we talk about it, the pleasure you get to go play in front of your fans where you grew up," Thomas said with a smile. "To make big plays in front of friends and family, it's amazing."

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