For the first 20 minutes of game play Friday, all the Nipomo High football team’s offense did was go backward.
The next five minutes told a completely different story, but what mattered most were the last five.
Quarterback Chris Souza led the Titans (1-4, 1-1 Los Padres League) on a touchdown drive to end the first half, and J.T. Wells returned the opening kickoff of the second half 91 yards for a score-tying touchdown.
But Cabrillo (5-1, 2-0 LPL) got its third rushing touchdown of the game from Isaiah Montes with 1:44 left in the fourth quarter to seal a 21-14 victory and spoil Nipomo’s Homecoming.
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“We felt like we could come in and compete and put ourselves in position to win,” Titans coach Russ Edwards said, “and for whatever reason, we came out flat offensively and defensively, which was a bummer because you’d think with Homecoming, we’d be jacked and we’d be ready to compete right away.”
Seemingly in concert with the slow start, Edwards chose to defer until the second half after winning the pregame coin flip.
It meant Nipomo would kick off to start the game, but it allowed the Titans to keep the momentum through the half when their offense finally got going after three straight three-and-outs and 7 total backward yards from scrimmage on those first few possessions.
When Wells picked up the second half kick at the 9-yard line and broke up the middle of the field to find open space and a sprint to the end zone from the 50, Nipomo was back in the game and the choice to defer looked genius.
But Edwards wasn’t the only one whose master plan worked out. Wells had an idea this was the night for the Titans’ first varsity touchdown return in school history.
“He had hit it real hard on the kick return before and almost broke it,”
Edwards said. “So, he was determined, and he told his dad, who’s one of our coaches, at halftime, ‘I’m taking it on our opening kickoff,’ and he did. So, he called his shot.”
After Montes scored his second touchdown on a 6-yard, fourth-and-1 run that gave Cabrillo a 14-0 lead with close to five minutes left in the second quarter, Wells returned the ensuing kickoff up the middle and past midfield, giving the Titans their best field position of the game.
Nipomo picked up its first first down of the game when Souza scrambled to convert with 3:14 left in the half.
Using his legs rather than his arm, Souza drove the Titans into the red zone and finished off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run with 48 seconds left in the half.
Souza finished with 66 yards rushing to lead Nipomo.
The quick score was a shock to Cabrillo, which was losing control of a game the Conquistadores expected to go a lot smoother.
“We didn’t expect it to be a challenge at all,” Montes said. “It was mostly penalties. We just kept messing up on our jobs, and it was just penalties we need to fix.”
Montes ran 17 times for 154 yards, and T.J. Babauta racked up 122 yards on 26 carries, but Cabrillo was penalized eight times for 65 yards and saw a few drives stalled by offensive penalties.
Nipomo only accounted for 122 yards of total offense, but the only flag thrown against the Titans ended up being declined.
The teams played to a stalemate for most of the third and fourth quarters. Nipomo’s best threat to score in the fourth ended up as a stalled drive in Cabrillo territory.
The Titans downed a perfectly placed punt at the 3-yard line, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Conquistadores from making a methodical game-winning drive.
Montes helped keep the chains moving and ended up scoring from 16 yards out to put Cabrillo ahead.
Suffering from leg cramps, Wells was corralled on the ensuing kick return, and Nipomo threw four straight incomplete passes to effectively end the game.