A team with lofty goals that suffered an unexpected season-opening loss last week, the Arroyo Grande High football team looked like the Eagles everyone expected Friday.
But don’t warm up the CIF-Southern Section playoff buses just yet.
Arroyo Grande (1-1) scored four times on four straight first-quarter possessions in a 37-6 road rout of Nipomo (0-2), but with a few offensive lulls, it’s clear that the Eagles are still forging a new identity following last year’s run to the division title game.
“Its easy when everything’s clicking,” said Eagles standout Seth Jacobs, one of several stars back from the 2010 team, “but we need to develop a sense of strength within ourselves to be able to come out and be strong when things aren’t going right. That’s probably one thing we’ll keep working on, but this is a good victory for us.
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“We learned from the first game that we can’t let up, and we can’t expect everything to keep going.”
In the fourth meeting between the South County rivals, almost nothing went wrong for Arroyo Grande (3-1 in the series) at the start.
The Eagles got interceptions on each of Titans quarterback Chris Souza’s first two pass attempts and finished with three total picks.
Henry Adelman got Arroyo Grande on the scoreboard with a 55-yard touchdown run on the third play from scrimmage.
Interceptions by Tyler Auerbach and Jacobs set up two scores by Garrett Owens — a 49-yard field goal that had at least 15 yards of distance to spare and a 4-yard touchdown catch from Brent VanderVeen.
Though VanderVeen finished with just 61 passing yards and the lone touchdown, Adelman racked up 86 rushing yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, and Jacobs ran for 68 yards on four carries, including a 35-yard touchdown in the second half.
Gabe Deleon rushed for a 42-yard touchdown on the Eagles’ fourth possession of the game, and it looked as if the new running-clock mercy rule might come into play.
But Nipomo was able to shut out Arroyo Grande in the second quarter, and the Eagles scored only two more times the rest of the game, and finished with two fewer first downs than the Titans.
“They put a lot of pressure on us,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “They were blitzing a lot and getting up field, and sometimes when you blitz a lot, you guess right and you go right into the play. They were real aggressive, and they played well, so we had to work for every yard we got.
Nipomo coach Russ Edwards said the Titans were running a defensive scheme designed to ease their lack of depth along the interior offensive and defensive lines, and it gave Nipomo the chance to try to counteract the Eagles size advantage with speed and confusion.
“Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it gave up big plays,” Edwards said. “You saw how good we were at times with it, stuffing them in the backfield and we had a ton of tackles for loss and forced some hurried throws by” VanderVeen.
Said Goossen: “People are throwing a lot of things at us early. It’s good for us to see all this and to experience it and get better and find out everything that we’re good at.”
Nipomo put together two drives in the second quarter that helped stop the Arroyo Grande offense by keeping it off the field.
The Titans settled for a 39-yard field goal by Tyler Apetz and could have had a second field goal before the half but ended up with nothing after trying to score a touchdown going into the break.
Ian Wilkinson picked off a bobbled screen pass on an off-target throw from VanderVeen to set up a drive that got as far as the 2-yard line with 5.7 seconds left in the second quarter.
But Souza was sacked for an 8-yard loss on the final play of the half and appeared to be shaken up as he headed back to the locker room.
Trainers feared Souza might have suffered a concussion, but after missing only one three-and-out possession to start the third, Souza was back in the game.
The senior quarterback finished 14-of-26 passing for 127 yards and rushed for 40 more, and coaches were relieved when he was able to return.
A season-ending injury to Souza last year was a major down note in the Titans’ 0-10 campaign. Edwards was imploring Souza to slide before taking a hit.
“He was our starter last year, and we lost him in the second game,” Edwards said. “That would not have been good to have that happen. That’s why I was having that conversation with him about being smart. It’s always courageous to fight for that extra yard, but you have to know when the journey’s over and go down.”