As Elyaz Pu’a stepped through a giant inflatable tunnel on senior night, flanked by family, the announcer called out his favorite memory as a Nipomo High School football player.
It was one that few others could claim — being able to play alongside his two brothers over the course of his career.
For the past several years, Elyaz shared the field with older brother Ely-Jah Pu’a, and this year, younger brother Keyshawn Pu’a, a freshman.
“At first, the brother in me thought, ‘Oh, he can’t do it,’ ” Elyaz said of his younger brother making the varsity team. “But getting to watch him play, it was something to watch, you know.
“A lot of people don’t get to say that (they played with their brothers). I’ll take that deep in my heart because it’s my last year.”
Elyaz Pu’a once again took the field with his brother Friday night, and even though the result wasn’t what they wanted — a 41-25 loss to Santa Maria that cost the Titans a second straight Northern League title — he showed just why he’s been so valuable to Nipomo this season.
Elyaz Pu’a anchored the defensive line for much of the season, but head coach Tony Dodge asked him to step in and play offensive line against Santa Maria. And he didn’t hesitate.
“Elyaz was obviously a leader for us, as a captain, and he played well all year,” Dodge said. “We asked him to play O-line this week, and he did it, which was very commendable of him. He put the team first.”
Entering Friday’s game, Keyshawn and Elyaz Pu’a were second and third, respectively, on the team in total tackles, with younger brother leading the team with 7.5 tackles for a loss.
“Keyshawn could be a special player,” Dodge said. “He’s got real skills. If he can fall in love with the weight room and realize the type of talent he has, he could be a special player.”
Keyshawn Pu’a had a forced fumble and recovery during Friday’s game, one of three turnovers forced by the Titans.
But Nipomo’s youth showed during the second half of Friday’s game, when Santa Maria (6-4 overall, 3-0 league) scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to pull away and earn its first Northern League title and first overall league title since 1988.
“That’s what hurt us tonight,” Dodge said.
Nipomo (4-6, 2-1), the second place team from the Northern League, now awaits its postseason fate hoping for a wildcard berth when the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 brackets are released Sunday morning. Regardless, it’s Nipomo’s youth that should have the Titans back in the mix next season.
Quarterback Brayden Groshart showed improvement throughout the season — only his second playing the position — and the Titans return several other impact players, including Keyshawn Pu’a and leading tackler, sophomore middle linebacker Jesse Garza. He had an interception in Friday’s game.
The defense didn’t allow a point in league play until late the second half of the last game against Santa Maria. Over the course of the season, the opportunistic unit forced 21 turnovers — helping erase mistakes. But on Friday, after Nipomo jumped out to a 19-0 lead, Santa Maria proved to be too much, scoring 34 second-half points, including 21 in the fourth quarter, to pull away.
Much of the defense will return next season, more mature and hungry for another shot at a league title.
▪ Senior Jedu Matautia-Reyes had an interception and six catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Senior Gage Wynn added five catches for 98 yards and two scores. Cole Bajema also had a touchdown.
▪ The Titans will lose 10 seniors to graduation.