No matter the situation, no matter what it called for, the Nipomo High football team’s offense had an answer Friday night at Morro Bay.
No moment was more indicative of that than one that came at a key juncture in the third quarter.
Titans quarterback Josh Correia had misfired on his three previous passes, and the Pirates had posted the most recent touchdown, gaining momentum and cutting what was once a 16-point deficit to 19-10.
Then, Correia calmly heaved a tight spiral down the center of the field to a sprinting Akeem King for a 60-yard touchdown with 4:42 remaining in the quarter. Eric Penningroth ran in a two-point conversion to provide the game’s final scoring, as Nipomo held on to gain its first-ever varsity win over Morro Bay, 27-10, in each team’s Los Padres League opener.
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“That was huge,” Penningroth said of the play. “We just run the ball to set up the pass. (Nipomo coach Russ Edwards) came up with a clutch call, and Josh executed it.”
Correia finished 10-of-16 passing for 135 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, and Penningroth rushed for a game-high 138 yards on 21 carries.
“We have an all-around offense,” Correia said. “We can run, we can go to the air, we can go deep, we can throw it (short) to the tight end.”
King’s touchdown reception was his only catch; fellow Titans receiver Kevin Britt caught a game-high three passes for 44 yards.
The Titans (3-1, 1-0 LPL), who returned 17 starters from last season, and whose only loss this year came 7-0 to Arroyo Grande, only punted twice.
“I think we may be hitting our stride,” Edwards said.
On the game’s opening drive, Correia hit Britt on a bubble screen, and Britt broke several tackles down the left sideline for a 20-yard score that put Nipomo ahead 6-0 with 7:17 left in the first quarter. Penningroth, who had 33 rushing yards on the drive, ran in the two-point conversion to quickly make matters 8-0.
“He’s shifty as all get out,” Edwards said of Penningroth. “You can never get a bead on him.”
On the opening series, Morro Bay junior quarterback, defensive back and kicker Sam Crizer — who entered the game with a team-best 454 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 56 carries — suffered a deep cut on his hand and had to leave to get stitches.
“There’s no underscoring that,” Edwards said of Crizer’s absence. “It really hurt them offensively.”
Morro Bay coach John Andree said he expected Crizer to be able to return next week.
“We couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Andree said. In what Andree called a “gutsy” performance, tight end Gardner Kennedy, typically the Pirates’ No. 1 receiving threat, took over at quarterback, and finished 3-of-9 passing for 26 yards, and rushed for 93 yards and a score on 19 attempts.
Kennedy runs the Pirates’ scout-team offense at quarterback but didn’t get any passing reps in practice this week.
A 21-yard Cody Chavez field goal with 2:09 remaining in the opening quarter got the Pirates (3-1, 0-1 LPL) on the scoreboard, but Nipomo answered just 1:45 later with a 23-yard Ernie Corona field goal.
On the ensuing Morro Bay possession, Kennedy couldn’t handle a snap, and the Titans’ Gabe Fernandez scooped up the fumble and rumbled untouched with a convoy of blockers 49 yards to the end zone with 7:44 left in the half. Another Penningroth two-point conversion put Nipomo up 19-3.
Kennedy’s 9-yard keeper 5:31 before intermission pulled Morro Bay within 19-10. David Coss then staved off a final Nipomo drive in the first half with a diving interception at midfield.