The Nipomo High football team entered its playoff game against Serra of Gardena on Friday night hoping to prevent big plays, which had been the Cavaliers’ calling card during an unbeaten season.
After just two plays, visiting Serra dialed the right number.
On the third play of the game, Cavaliers receiver Robert Woods caught a slant over the middle and raced down the center of the field for an 82-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Conner Preston only 63 seconds into the contest.
It set the tone for Serra’s 48-18 win in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division postseason.
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“Serra’s a big-play team, and they got some big plays on us,” Nipomo coach Russ Edwards said. “We gave them a game. They just overcame us with their size up front and speed at every position.”
Woods, widely rated as a top-five college football recruit nationally, has already committed to USC, but a handful of other Serra stars also made their mark.
With 30 seconds left in the first quarter, Serra junior receiver George Farmer — who already has offers from Florida and USC, among others — put the Cavaliers up 14-0 by reeling in a 25-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone on a fourth-down play.
“With all the weapons they have, it’s tough to combat that,” Edwards said. “We had a lot of times where the defense was in the right place, and they just beat us with speed. There’s not really anything you can do about that.”
The Titans (8-4) answered with a 51-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Correia to speedy receiver Kevin Britt down the right sideline that cut the lead to 14-6 with 9:43 remaining in the opening half.
Nipomo’s defense then held Serra to a 27-yard field goal with 6:20 left in the half, but soon after, the Cavaliers (12-0) pushed the lead to 24-6 on a 5-yard scoring pass to Farmer 1:35 before the break.
Cavaliers running back Shaquille Richard scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 9:32 left in the third quarter, and only 12 seconds later on the ensuing possession, Marqise Lee returned an interception 37 yards for a score that ballooned the lead to 38-6.
Nipomo got back on the scoreboard with 5:30 remaining in the third, as Eric Penningroth lofted a 28-yard halfback pass to the right corner of the end zone to Britt, who made a sensational diving one-handed catch that trimmed the margin to 38-12. The play was set up by a 32-yard interception return by Titans defensive back Angel Rendon.
“Our boys never quit,” Edwards said. “It would’ve been real easy for our guys to look at the scoreboard and get real down, but that didn’t happen. Our guys represented well. All our playmakers made plays.”
A 22-yard field goal by Serra’s Francisco Olloqui provided a 41-12 lead with 11:52 remaining in regulation. A 2-yard Preston keeper with 6:26 remaining made matters 48-12. Duane Hanna rounded out the scoring by catching a 10-yard touchdown pass from Correia with 2:06 left.
After the game, Edwards told a circle of Titans players to remember all the firsts in Nipomo history this year.
Last week, the Titans topped Verbum Dei 39-12, claiming the 7-year-old varsity program’s first-ever playoff win, which set up its first-ever home playoff game. Along the way, handfuls of individual season and career records were rewritten.
“We had a great season,” Edwards said. “To be the first team to ever win a playoff game … as you build tradition in a program, those milestones are really important.”
After Edwards’ postgame address, a sea of players’ family members and friends took the field, reflecting on the memorable season.
“History,” Britt said of Nipomo’s year, which the Titans opened with 17 starters back from 2008. “What a season. It was a blast.”
Preston finished 12-of-22 passing for 227 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. Woods had two catches for 93 yards and the score.
Britt had four receptions for 123 yards and the two touchdowns for Nipomo, while Penningroth ran for 120 yards on 25 carries. Playing against the 21st-ranked team in the state, which featured nearly a dozen nationally renowned Division I prospects, both totals were game highs.
Britt finished the year with 53 catches for 890 yards and 11 touchdowns. Penningroth finished with 2,008 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns. Both were San Luis Obispo County bests this year, as were Correia’s 1,798 passing yards.
“It’s a season to remember,” Penningroth said. “It wasn’t a bad game to go out on.”