High School Sports

Arroyo Grande's defense goes into overdrive in football win

Arroyo Grande High’s Elijah Holt runs past Nipomo’s Harrison Lebastida during the Eagles’ win Friday.
Arroyo Grande High’s Elijah Holt runs past Nipomo’s Harrison Lebastida during the Eagles’ win Friday. The Tribune

At first glance, senior Ian Mallott has good size for a cornerback.

Five-foot-10. One hundred seventy-five pounds.

He dominated one-on-one matchups with his speed and athleticism, not unlike the rest of the Arroyo Grande High football team in its 50-7 victory over Nipomo at Hitchen Stadium on Friday.

But Mallott isn’t a cornerback. Try defensive end.

“What’s unusual about our defensive line is we’re small again this year up there,” Eagles coach Tom Goossen said in the understatement of the night, “but those kids have a big motor, and they were playing hard the whole game. “They get well coached, and it was one of those games where we were able to put some pressure on and make it tough for the quarterback.”

Mallott had a game-high two sacks, fellow rusher Erik Rodriguez (6-2, 186) repeatedly burst into the Titans backfield like he was playing red rover, and Nipomo quarterback Luke Shurtleff was harassed into hurried throws all night in the annual South County rivalry matchup.

The Arroyo Grande offense did not have to punt the entire game and featured seven different players scoring touchdowns. But the Eagles wouldn’t have had nearly as many opportunities to score had the defense not forced three turnovers and stymied the Titans’ offense from the start.

All with a three-man front line that is building a reputation for its lack of size.

“That’s how it’s been since last year, too,” Mallott said, “and what we do is just work on being more aggressive and just don’t let it faze us. Just be faster, that’s what we work on.

“The coaches told us all week that we were going to focus on pass rushing, that their strength was going to be the O-line, and if we take them out, the game was going to be ours.”

In a battle to avoid starting 0-2, Arroyo Grande (1-1) essentially ended the contest by scoring four first-quarter touchdowns while limiting Nipomo (0-2) to minus-3 yards on the Titans’ first three possessions.

Even with Nipomo running a no-huddle spread offense, Shurtleff — 12 of 28 for 114 yards and a touchdown — had little time to throw. The Eagles intercepted him twice and dropped a few more.

Titans coach Russ Edwards wasn’t intimidated by the sheer size of his northern neighbors, but Edwards had to respect the desire of Arroyo Grande.

“It just seemed like they wanted it a whole lot more than we did,” Edwards said. “They weren’t really bigger than us. I doubt that they were really stronger than us. They just executed and got off the ball and did all those things better than we did and just took it to us and hammered us.”

Nipomo’s lone highlight came on a 32-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown catch by receiver Josh Sundberg on fourth-and-30.

The Titans had a field goal blocked on the previous play but regained possession when an Eagles’ player tried to illegally advance the ball by batting it forward.

Tommy Saenz led Nipomo with 51 yards rushing on 10 carries, and Sundberg and Shurtleff nearly connected on another second-half deep throw, but the receiver lost sight of the ball in the air.

There were no such miscues for the Eagles.

Senior quarterback Matt Willkomm was 6-of-10 passing for 65 yards and didn’t attempt a throw after his second touchdown pass of the game, a 5-yarder to Grant Alton that made it 21-0 with 3:56 left in the first quarter.

Willkomm started the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brennan Rivera on the opening drive. Alan Osio, who had a game-high 90 yards rushing on 15 carries, ran in a score from 1-yard out, and Wilkomm scored on a 16-yard scramble — all before the start of the second quarter,Mikey Gutierrez had a 2-yard touchdown run, and Sean St. Dennis ran one in from 1 yard out as Arroyo Grande led 41-0 at the half.

In the second half, Johnny Kubel added a 1-yard touchdown run, and Cole Ramey hit a 33-yard field goal.

The Eagles spread the ball out about as evenly as possible. Aside from Osio, 11 other players ran the ball and none of them had more than five attempts.

It might be hard to imagine a game going any better for Arroyo Grande, but Mallott thinks there is still plenty of room to grow.

“I think we can do better,” Mallott said. “We have a lot of talent. We just need a little bit more practice. When we get to the (PAC 7) season, that’s when we’re going to start peaking. That’s when we’re going to get good.”