For the first three-and-a-half quarters, the league title showdown between Nipomo High and Templeton was mostly just a soggy mess of sloppy football.
The rain — the first in what has been a miserable drought — blew in sideways starting in the middle of the Titans’ senior night festivities before kickoff and lasted all through the night.
It grounded Nipomo’s air attack and kept the ball wet enough to force 16 combined fumbles. The twists and turns of the final five minutes, however, made the Eagles’ 15-14 victory seem worthy of its own legendary nickname.
So went the Great Slosh Bowl of 2014.
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Angel Avelar hit a 25-yard field goal as time expired to set up a potential three-way tie for the Northern League title between Nipomo (6-4, 3-1 NL), Templeton (7-2, 2-1 NL) and idle Morro Bay (4-5, 2-1 NL), which beat the Eagles by a point and lost to the Titans by a point earlier this season.
“It was a great test,” Eagles coach Dan Loney said. “I can’t say enough about how much momentum plays into it going both ways. The kids have had that ability to keep fighting to the end, and we’ve done it in every game.”
Nipomo had a 14-12 lead after Templeton’s Bryson Messer ran 31 yards for a touchdown with 5:38 left in the game. The Eagles’ two-point conversion that failed was a necessary risk because the PAT on their first-half touchdown went awry on a bad snap.
Then the game turned on a series with the g force of a jet fighter.
Templeton failed to recover an onside kick, but Titans running back Michael Jordan lost a fumble at the Eagles 45-yard line with 4:14 left in the game.
It looked as if Nipomo’s defense had held strong, but on fourth-and-13 at the Nipomo 40, senior quarterback Gunnar Griffin hit Christian Hauser on a 30-yard prayer that Hauser caught falling flat on his back after the ball slipped past two Titans defenders.
But going in for the winning score, however, Jacob Walsh lost a fumble on second-and-goal at the 3-yard line, and Nipomo regained possession with 1:23 left.
“When we fumbled the ball,” Griffin said, “I knew we were going to come back. I knew our defense was good enough.”
Templeton used its timeouts and forced Nipomo to go three-and-out and attempt a punt in the final seconds. Standing deep in his own end zone, Nick Kimball bobbled a high snap and looked poised to give up a safety.
But Kimball, also a receiver, outran the Eagles defenders, made a beeline straight for the first-down marker and dove at the sticks. It appeared as if Kimball may have converted the first down at the 12-yard line, but the officials ruled he was just short and gave Templeton the ball back with 18 seconds left.
It was one of a few controversial calls the Eagles benefitted from. Prior to the big fourth-down conversion pass to Hauser, Templeton caught a break when what appeared to be a lateral pass by Griffin was instead ruled incomplete, erasing what could have been a huge loss.
Looking for a pass interference call earlier in the quarter, the Nipomo faithful heavily booed the officiating crew when Kimball got open downfield but could not get free from an Eagles defender to attempt the catch.
Nevertheless, the Eagles ran the ball to the 7-yard line and spiked it with one second left. That allowed Avelar to convert the field goal and help Templeton earn some redemption for a 23-22 loss to Morro Bay that ended with a blocked field goal and another controversial non-call in that game.
“We didn’t want to finish 2-2 in league,” said Griffin, who was 12-of-15 passing for 129 yards and a 19-yard touchdown to Nate Avery. “We want to finish 3-1. We want to be league champs. We didn’t want that loss to keep us down.”
Griffin was able to muster some strong throws in the rain, but Nipomo, which came into the game averaging more than 20 completions per game, couldn’t get off the ground.
Tony Navarro rushed 28 times for 119 yards, and Chris Owens added 55 yards on 18 carries, but senior quarterback Matt Albright was just 1-of-6 passing for 40 yards, a touchdown to Kimball that made it 14-6 on the first play of the fourth quarter — after Templeton fumbled a bad snap and turned the ball over on downs trying to convert on fourth-and-1.
Now the Titans go into their bye week having to settle for a share of the league title, their first in program history but believing there might have been a different outcome if not for the rain.
“There’s a lot of factors that took our team out of the game,” Albright said. “We throw more, and they’re more 50-50. Maybe if the weather wasn’t this bad, but it’s no excuse. We should have played harder and probably should have gotten some more plays if we’d executed better.”