All season, Matt Albright has quarterbacked the Nipomo High football team’s offense with precision and efficiency.
Friday night at Mission Prep, he took the reins for real, and the Titans didn’t miss a beat.
The senior, calling all the plays himself for the first time in his career, threw for 211 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns, a pair of sophomores played a major role on a team full of seniors, and Nipomo moved a game away from an undefeated Northern League title with a dominant 36-0 win over the Royals.
“I like to be in control of all the calls,” said Albright, who has thrown for 2,378 yards and 24 touchdowns this season while completing just less than 69 percent of his passes. “I got to do what I thought was right, and I thought I made a lot of good play calls out there.”
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His coach agreed.
“He did a great job,” coach Russ Edwards said. “I think I called maybe three plays the whole night.
“That just gives us another element. … If we can go that fast, we’re going to wear people down.”
Chris Owens rushed for 104 yards on eight first-quarter carries before leaving late in the period with an injury suffered on a 3-yard screen pass. Edwards said it was a hip flexor, and the senior was walking under his own power following the game after needing to be helped off the field when he was tackled.
The void left by Owens was filled by Michael Jordan, a sophomore who had been ineligible until last week. He announced his presence by running for 102 yards and two scores on 17 carries.
“He stepped up big time,” Albright said. “He runs hard on scout team … so we knew that he was a really good football player.”
Joining Jordan on the list of recently added standout sophomores was 6-foot-4 defensive back Jimmy Pineo, who intercepted Mission Prep’s Bryce Fledderman twice, including for a 46-yard touchdown with 2:25 before halftime to put the Titans (6-3, 3-0) ahead 29-0.
“We were just pumped from the start,” said Pineo, who transferred from Arroyo Grande and snagged his first two career picks. “It was a really big game for us, so we just went after it and put everything out there.”
For the Royals (3-5, 0-2), it was a disappointing result coming off a bye week and a loss to Templeton in which Mission Prep hung close and scored 34 points.
This time around, the closest the Royals got to the end zone was when they recovered a Jordan fumble at Nipomo’s 31-yard line. But even then, a sack and a penalty ended the drive immediately and forced Mission Prep to punt from the Titans’ 40.
“We didn’t execute very well,” Royals coach Chad Henry said, “so that makes it difficult when you’re not able to consistently put plays together or have eight guys playing hard on one play and three guys not.”
Things were shaky from the start for Mission Prep, as the Titans marched the ball down the field with ease on the opening drive and Albright found Nick Kimball for a 38-yard score.
Following an unsuccessful kick return that forced the Royals to start at their own 8-yard line, Fledderman was forced back into the end zone and threw the ball away, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty and an automatic safety.
Albright and Kimball connected on the ensuing possession to give Nipomo a 16-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
“We haven’t been putting up a lot of points this year, so that put a lot of stress on us offensively,” Henry said. “We have a lot young guys who don’t have a lot of experience fighting in these situations. I thought we didn’t drop our heads, but it’s just something that we’re definitely going to have to get better.”
Fledderman, a sophomore who was pressured most of the night and was the victim of a few drops, finished 16-of-40 passing for 130 yards and three interceptions. A Mission Prep rushing attack that entered the game averaging 144.6 yards per game was held to 36 yards on 16 carries, including four sacks. Down by double digits, the Royals ran the ball just three times in the second half for 12 yards.
“It was a shutout, and it wasn’t even close,” Edwards said of his defense.
Kimball finished with eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, and fellow senior Brandon Hettenhouser turned in a highlight reel interception in the second quarter when he blanketed his man down the right sideline before coming down with a one-handed pick.
“The defense is coming together great,” said Pineo, who also had a third interception called back on a penalty. “We’re all working really hard and attacking the ball; it’s just really good.”
Nipomo, which doesn’t have a bye until the final week of the regular season, will play a game for the 10th straight week at home against Templeton on Halloween.
A spot in the playoffs is assured, but Albright said there’s still work left before the postseason. This win “guaranteed us a spot in CIF, and that’s something we were looking for,” he said, “but we really want the league championship, and that’s next week.”