Every football team must deal with injuries at some point during the season. It’s the nature of the game.
It happened sooner rather than later for Nipomo High School.
The injury bug hit just minutes into the start of the season as senior quarterback Brayden Groshart tore his MCL and ACL in the first quarter of the Titans’ season opener against Santa Ynez last week. While he finished that game, he walked the sidelines during Friday’s 28-6 non-league victory against Cabrillo with his leg in a brace, cheering on his replacement, Nate Reese.
The game was played at San Luis Obispo High School because Nipomo’s stadium is not yet finished.
Nipomo head coach Tony Dodge had figured Reese to be in his plans this season and gave him reps all summer. But he hadn’t planned on asking him to run the entire offense by the second week. The Cabrillo match-up was a chance to get Reese much-needed experience under his belt in a non-pressure game.
But that quickly soured, as the sophomore hobbled off the field in the first quarter. He would later return to the game as a receiver, but he was clearly limited. Nick Milton, another sophomore, replaced Reese and also appeared at times to favor a foot.
It became clear that Nipomo just needed the game to end without anyone else getting hurt.
Running back Keyshawn Pu’a shouldered the load in the absence of Reese and Groshart, rumbling for two scores. Senior middle linebacker Jesse Garza also rushed for his first varsity touchdown after two years of solely defensive work. Zach Plunk had a 16-yard score and showed he could be a capable partner to Pu’a’s north-south running style.
“Nate’s still young, we just have to get him more experience,” Dodge said. “Tonight was good. It’s all on film. We can grow from it; we can learn from it. (Reese and Milton) are the two guys we have to roll with now.”
Relying on running game, defense
After Reese went out, the Titans kept the ball on the ground. Between moving the chains and stifling defense up front, they killed off the clock — and the game.
The defense allowed only three completions, had four sacks from four different players and had one fumble recovery. The defense erased many of the mistakes made on offense, where failed pitches and bad snaps resulted in lost fumbles.
Cabrillo went for it on every fourth down in Nipomo territory, but ultimately came up empty. The Conquistadores’ biggest plays came when Mykul Guillory found Cade McNamee for back-to-back completions. On the first, McNamee nearly outran the entire Nipomo team down the sideline for a 53-yard completion. On the next, Guillory threw a 13-yard fade that bounced off a Titans helmet before McNamee caught the ball flat on his back.
Nipomo’s defensive front seven corralled Guillory and were in the backfield during running plays more often than not. They rushed throws and collapsed the pocket. The defensive line, which contained Groshart before his injury, is comprised mainly of seniors.
“I expect big things from them,” Dodge said.
“’I’ve told them from Day 1 that, ‘We have to dominate up front. You guys are the leaders.’”
Getting the ‘best guys’ on the field
An old-school guy, Dodge believes in keeping his best players on the field —including his best skill players.
“My philosophy is: I’m getting my best guys on the field as much as possible to give us the best chance to win,“ Dodge said. “We’ve got a lot of guys going two ways this year, with a lot of young guys behind them that are still learning. Hopefully, by the time league rolls around, they’re ready to step in and give them a little break.
“When I was in high school, we never came off the field.”
The only problem might be keeping them on the field.
Nipomo (2-0) will play next Friday at Golden West (2-0) of Visalia.
Other SLO and northern Santa Barbara county scores
Frontier 20, Paso Robles 10
Arroyo Grande 28, Centennial 14
Lindsay 7, Morro Bay 0
Coast Union 55, Laguna Blanca 8
Santa Maria 33, San Marcos 29
Righetti 28, Lompoc 21
St. Joseph 17, Garces Memorial 0
Santa Ynez 42, Carpinteria 0