Most thrilling comebacks in football are marked by at least a few long pass plays — quick strikes that can add up to turn the tide in a hurry.
There was no such thing for the victors at Doug Hitchen Stadium on Friday night, but the rally was nonetheless one to remember for Lompoc High.
The Braves, the defending CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division champion, came back from a 21-0 second-quarter deficit to defeat Arroyo Grande, 38-28, for a season-opening nonleague road win.
Lompoc rushed 64 times as a team for 295 yards, including a particularly stellar performance by 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior Lavon Coleman. Coleman had 168 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries, and also had a key interception on defense and a 73-yard kickoff return.
“Everybody was so hyped up,” Coleman said of the mood on the Braves’ sideline after falling behind early. “We all just went for it. They came to me like, ‘We need you right now. You can’t be down and out.’ And I was just like, ‘You know what? I’m going to come through. If you guys make the holes, I’m going to run through them.’ ”
Taylor Cornejo added 101 yards on 21 carries for the Braves, who, despite losing numerous all-Los Padres League honorees from last year’s LPL championship squad, could be the favorite to repeat.
Midway through the first half, it looked as if Arroyo Grande was on its way to something of a statement win, as the Eagles’ 6-foot-5 senior quarterback, Brent VanderVeen, had touchdown passes of 74 yards (to Seth Jacobs), 21 yards (Garrett Owens) and 70 yards (Gabe Deleon) by the time just 10 seconds were elapsed in the second quarter, providing the 21-0 advantage.
After that, though, the Braves steadily chipped away, closing to within 21-7 at halftime and then 21-14 on a 15-yard Coleman touchdown run with 8:27 to go in the third.
VanderVeen had another bomb soon afterward, finding Deleon for a 72-yard scoring pass to make it 28-14 in favor of the Eagles, but the Braves rattled off three straight TDs in a span of less than three minutes to take the lead.
Luciano Lopez hit Greg Mitchell for a 16-yard TD pass (the Braves’ only completion of the night), Joseph Valla returned an Arroyo Grande bobbled pitch that never hit the ground 18 yards to paydirt, and Coleman punched in a 3-yard run for a 35-28 lead 50 seconds into the fourth.
“We pushed through to the fourth quarter,” Coleman said.
VanderVeen, who has committed to Oregon State, finished 12-of-24 passing for 275 yards and the four TDs with two interceptions. Deleon finished with six catches for 172 yards and two TDs. Henry Adelman rushed for a team-best 65 yards on six carries for Arroyo Grande.
Jacobs, a star outside linebacker for the Eagles, had two tackles for loss, and Zach Diaz had a sack. Owens, an Air Force-bound kicker who sent all but one of his kickoffs for touchbacks, also had an interception for Arroyo Grande.
In addition to the pivotal fumble return by Valla, though, the Eagles were doomed in large part by miscues that included three high snaps and six ill-timed penalties.
“We had too many mistakes,” Eagles coach Tom Goossen said. “And they did a pretty good job of running right at us, so certainly we’re going to have to shore some things up to become the quality team that we know we’re going to be.”
Arroyo Grande, which returned a majority of its starters from last year’s Western Division playoff runner-up, is ultimately shooting for its first league title since 2004.
“It isn’t the end of the world, and it does happen to good teams,” Goossen said of the setback. “Lompoc played well, and they took it to us. I give credit to Lompoc. They played hard, and they wanted this game a little bit more than we did, so we’ll have to re-assess and re-evaluate and come up with some answers.”