Entering the season, one of the Nipomo High football team’s main goals was pretty straightforward: to go farther than any team in school history. Late Saturday night, the Titans were officially able to check that off the list.
At St. Matthias High in Downey, Nipomo used its team-wide quickness to thump Verbum Dei of Los Angeles 39-12 in the opening round of the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division playoffs.
Two buses of Nipomo fans made the trip to see the Titans pick up the first postseason win in the seven-year history of the program.
“It was almost like we were playing a home game,” Nipomo running back Eric Penningroth said. “It meant a lot. Hopefully we can establish a tradition.”
Never miss a local story.
The success hasn’t come as a surprise around Nipomo, as the Titans returned 17 starters from last year. While many of them are undersized compared to traditionally winning teams in the area, their skill and speed have taken a backseat to no one locally.
Nipomo’s offense has been driven by senior stars in quarterback Josh Correia, Penningroth, receiver Kevin Britt and linebacker Duane Hanna, among others.
Saturday was no exception. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Correia, the Central Coast’s leading passer, was 8 of 16 through the air for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
The ever-shifty Penningroth ran for 129 yards and two scores on 27 carries, and also caught four passes for 68 yards and another touchdown.
Britt — the reigning Elks San Luis Obispo County Track Meet 400 and 200 meter champion — hauled in two touchdown passes totaling 68 yards. And Hanna, who now has 121 tackles on the year, helped the Titans’ swarming defense in holding Verbum Dei to minus-three yards rushing, as they rattled Verbum Dei sophomore running back Anthony Charles early.
“We really dominated the line of scrimmage from the get-go,” Titans coach Russ Edwards said.
Nipomo collected three sacks and a safety en route to a 39-0 lead, which allowed mass substitutions by the fourth quarter.
“We wanted them to be able to come in; they’ve been practicing all year just like (the starters),” said Penningroth, a dual-threat who has amassed 242 touches for 1,888 total yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
The Titans will experience another first at 7:30 Friday night, when they host Serra of Gardena for the first home playoff game in school history. They’re now the only Southern Section team from the county still alive.
“It feels good when you have coaches from other teams asking for tickets, saying they’re going to come to your game or encouraging you because you’re the team that’s in it,” Edwards said. “Last year, we watched Morro Bay play (nationally ranked) Oaks Christian, and this year, everybody is coming to our house to watch us play Serra.
“Rather than Nipomo boys going to see other games, people are going to be coming to see us, and that’s a great feeling.”
The Cavaliers (11-0), the Del Rey League champion and the division’s No. 2 seed, are led by an explosive passing attack, as quarterback Conner Preston’s favorite target is senior receiver Robert Woods, who has committed to USC and is rated by Rivals.com as the third-best college football recruit in the nation.
Preston also can look for Paul Richardson and Lindsey Anderson — two other receivers with 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash who also have offers from a variety of Pac-10, Mountain West and Western Athletic schools.
“They have a lot of speed,” Penningroth said. “We’re going to have to not make any mistakes on defense, and on offense we can’t be one-dimensional. We’re going to pretty much have to play a perfect game.”