Nipomo High’s football coach was eager to see how a team of successful junior varsity players would handle their opening game at the varsity level last week.
The Titans met the challenge and won a 32-31 thriller against Pioneer Valley behind 320 yards passing and three touchdowns from junior Matt Albright in his first varsity start. Albright did not throw an interception.
On the Titans’ final drive, Albright threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Nick Kimball, and Jason Alvarado kicked the point after touchdown conversion with four seconds remaining for the one-point win.
This week Nipomo’s assignment is another larger PAC 7 school — the defending league co-champion Arroyo Grande Eagles.
The game starts at 7 p.m. at Nipomo.
“Last week, I wanted to see how our guys would do because it’s one of those things where you think you know what they’re capable of, but they have to go out and show it,” Nipomo coach Russ Edwards said. “I thought they did well.”
For Arroyo Grande, the hope this week will be to get into the win column after a hard-fought 28-16 loss to Lompoc, the three-time Los Padres League champion.
Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen was generally pleased with the way quarterback Mikey Gutierrez played, handling his first start of the season with a 13- for-18 night passing for 175 yards. Gutierrez threw a touchdown and a pick.
Goossen said he’s seen game tape of Nipomo and noted the Titans have a good receiving core.
“They put up a lot of points versus Pioneer Valley,” Goossen said. “The receivers caught good balls. They did what they needed to do at the end. And I thought they did a good job of flying around on D.”
Goossen said preparing for the Titans hasn’t required much looking back at the Lompoc game.
That’s because Nipomo’s style of offense is much more pass-heavy than Lompoc’s. The Braves ran the ball 63 times for 405 yards against the Eagles.
In contrast, Albright was 28-for-43 passing against Pioneer Valley, and the Titans ran the ball 24 times for 67 yards.
“Lompoc and Nipomo have two completely different offenses,” Goossen said. “Lompoc comes right at you with an aggressive, hard-hitting run game. Nipomo spreads it out and tries to attack you through the air. So the lessons from Lompoc may not be fully implemented in this matchup.”
Kimball caught seven passes for 132 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Titans’ charge last week.
Harrison Labastida hauled in four balls for 85 yards receiving, and Brandon Hettenhouser snagged eight passes for 60 yards.
The nail-biting victory was a welcome boost of confidence for a Titan program that was 2-8 last season and has strived to get back on track after three straight losing campaigns.
Edwards said he liked the way his players battled through mistakes after a botched snap on a punt that led to a Panther touchdown and blocked punt that resulted in a score for Pioneer Valley.
“The guys never hung their heads or gave up,” Edwards said. “They handled the adversity.”
Edwards’ starting squad includes nine players on offense and eight on defense, who are playing on varsity for the first year. They’ll have to contend with a physical Eagles’ offensive line.
“Looking at the game tape against Lompoc, Arroyo Grande’s offensive line gets off the ball well,” Edwards said. “We’re real concerned about trying to stop the run and forcing their quarterback, a first-year starting senior (Gutierrez), to throw the ball.”
And as the new players stepped up, two veterans — Michael Renner and Jared Springer — did a “great job” on the offensive line shoring up the protection, Edwards said.
The Titans will be looking for their first win against Arroyo Grande since their 24-0 victory over the Eagles in 2008.
The Eagles won 50-7 last season in the lopsided nonleague matchup. The last close game was a 7-0 win by the Eagles in 2009.
Arroyo Grande figures to try to run the ball more than last week after managing 80 yards against a tough Braves’ defensive line that plugged up the running holes well on all of the Eagles rushers except for Gutierrez, who tallied 50 yards on nine carries.
But through the air, Gutierrez connected with receiver Sean St. Denis for five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Grant Alton snagged three passes for 53 yards and recorded 20 tackles as a linebacker.
“Mikey did a very good job of controlling the offense,” Goossen said. “We had a couple of breakdowns, but generally speaking, he got the ball to the right hands at the right time and the kids did a good job of catching it.”