Lompoc High’s football team started the 2013 season the same way it did in 2012 — by beating Arroyo Grande in the season opener for both squads.
But the Eagles fared much better this time around compared with the 31-0 defeat they suffered to the Braves last season.
Lompoc won 28-16 on Friday at Doug Hitchen Stadium behind a punishing ground attack that the Eagles couldn’t find a way to slow down in the first half.
Lompoc ran for 405 yards with most of them coming from the 1-2 punch of A.J. Florez and Derrick Portis, who started in place of Austin Hayes, the anticipated starter who played behind standouts Lavon Coleman and Nikko Hayes last season.
Florez ran for 194 yards and a touchdown. Portis racked up 152 yards with a touchdown on the ground and collected a receiving touchdown.
“It was supposed to be A.J. and Austin switching off, and then I’d come in for some plays,” Portis said. “But when Austin got hurt, I knew I’d have to carry the load a bit more. I just wanted to hit the hole hard and make sure we kept getting those first downs.”
But the Eagles found a way to slow the rushing assault and shut out Lompoc in the second half while creeping back into the contest.
Mike Gutierrez, Arroyo Grande’s senior quarterback, was 13 for 18 for 175 yards through the air with a touchdown and an interception late in the fourth quarter in the Braves’ red zone.
But with the Eagles on their heels while down 28-7 at halftime, Gutierrez connected with tight end Grant Alton for a 35-yard pass and then with Sean St. Denis for a 28-yard touchdown on the first two plays of the third quarter.
That brought the score to 28-13 in the span of 21 seconds into the second half after a missed extra point.
A 24-yard field goal by Cole Ramey with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter closed the gap to 28-16, and the Eagles had the momentum.
“I tried not to doubt anything,” Gutierrez said. “I know the kind of team we have from being in practice with them. In the second half, we wanted to get back in the game. We had a lot of good things to build on. We’ll find the right chemistry.”
Gutierrez found St. Denis on five passes for 65 yards, including the touchdown in which St. Denis broke a tackle on the left side of the field and found daylight to the end zone.
Alton caught three passes for 53 yards, including a first-quarter touchdown reception from 7 yards out that evened the score at 7.
Arroyo Grande’s Michael Jordano answered a game-opening 45-yard kickoff return by Portis with a kickoff return of his own of about the same yardage on the Eagles’ first drive.
That set up the touchdown pass from Gutierrez to Alton to knot the score at 7 midway through the first quarter.
But the Eagles’ defense had trouble stopping the run as the Braves racked up more than 200 yards combined from Portis and Florez in the first half as Ainuu Taua and the rest of the Lompoc line dominated up front.
On the verge of forcing Lompoc’s first punt, Arroyo Grande made a costly mistake on a roughing-the-passer penalty midway into the second quarter that kept a drive alive on a third down incomplete pass.
Lompoc took advantage to go up 21-7 on a 31-yard touchdown run by quarterback Gage Buckley on a third-and-short.
Buckley faked a handoff to Taua, a 6-foot, 280-pound, short-yardage runner and darted around the right end for a touchdown.
Taua, who’s being recruited for several major college programs including Cal and Michigan, was a force to contend with.
He played both sides of the ball as well as punter. Taua was able to toss aside multiple blockers on the defensive side to pressure Gutierrez.
But on a play in the first quarter, an Eagles defender upended Taua, playing running back, with a vicious hit and the strongest player on the field had to sit out a couple of minutes to recover from the blow.
Taua also got tangled up with Arroyo Grande’s Ryan Teixeira in some extracurricular activity after a play in the second quarter, leading to personal fouls on both players.
While the Eagles’ defense had trouble stopping the run, they quieted the passing game, holding Buckley to 2 of 9 passing for 52 yards.
Arroyo Grande’s run game managed only 80 yards against a physical Lompoc line.
Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said he was proud of the way his players fought back in the game.
“A lot of teams would have folded after that first half,” Goossen said. “A couple of mistakes, a couple of plays in the game that cost us, and we were right there. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way Mikey Gutierrez played and the way he found guys. We responded well to adversity.”