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A powerhouse battle of two top teams delivered a game worthy of being played at Qualcomm Stadium. But only one could actually earn the prize of a trip to Mission valley, and it was the Vista Panthers (11-1) who will move one step closer to becoming champions.

Brandon Ivy kicked a 23-yard field goal with three minutes left in the fourth quarter to give Vista the victory over Torrey Pines 20-17 in the CIF San Diego Section Division I semifinals at Falcons Stadium.

“The Falcon defense came out and fought every single play. But we wanted it more. We fought hard, we executed and we put 110% in every play,” said Vista’s senior tailback Shakeel Marshall, who had 107 rushing yards on 26 carries in the game.

Postgame video interviews:

Vista went into this game knowing that they were going to get a lot of Wilson and that he would be carrying the load for the Torrey Pines (10-2) team. With the adjustments made at half time, the Panthers defense was able to shut down Wilson’s running game in the second half.

Torrey Pines running back John Wilson had two touchdowns (41 and 12 yards receiving) and carried the ball 16 times for 126 yards (110 first half.)

“John Wilson is a heck of a player and a runner. Our goal was to get Wilson out of the game and we did not do a good job at that in the first half. I thought we made some good adjustments in the second half to shut him down,” said Vista head coach Dan Williams.

Vista scored after Marshall blocked a punt, setting up a 25-yard pass from quarterback Christian Gallardi to Myron Seabrook, giving the Panthers an early lead 7-0 in the first quarter.

Brandon Ivy came in for a 21-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half to tie the game 10-10. Instead, Torrey Pines drew a penalty for roughing the kicker. This penalty put the ball on Torrey Pines 2-yard line allowing for an easy 2-yard touchdown run by Joey McFadden on the following play for a 14-10 halftime lead.

The loss of Torrey Pines’ starting quarterback John Cabot to a shoulder injury at the beginning of the second half was a huge upset for the Falcons.

The Falcons’ backup quarterback Andrew Perkins tied the game in the fourth quarter 17-17 with a well-executed hook and lateral play to Mitchell Yocum who tossed the ball to John Wilson who went 41 yards for the touchdown.

Vista senior Stefan McClure had a huge impact on the Vista game in the fourth quarter. McClure had a 44-yard punt return that set up a 40 yard field goal by Brandon Ivy. His 36-yard reception helped position Vista for their only other score of the second half, the game-winning 23-yard field goal by Ivy.

Coach Williams said about player Stefan McClure, “Stef is the best player in the county in my opinion. He can play on both sides of the ball. He is explosive. He is our go to guy. I am happy he is on our team.”

“It was a tough game out there tonight. We had some ups and downs, some three and outs, but our defense really stood up tonight. It was a huge game and a huge win,” said Stefan McClure in regards to Vista’s victory.

Vista will meet fourth-seeded Mira Mesa in the Division Championship game Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Qualcomm Stadium.

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Champions find a way to win.  For the seventh straight year, the Oceanside Pirates will have a chance to become the champions of the CIF-San Diego Section Division II.

With a defensive effort for the ages, the 4th seeded Oceanside Pirates (9-3) performed their annual role as the foil for the Helix football program, ending the Highlanders’ season for the third straight season with a 24-17 victory at Jim Arnaiz Field on the Helix campus in La Mesa.

“That was a championship football game right there,” said Oceanside head coach John Carroll, who will seek his seventh consecutive Division II section championship on Monday night against Mission Hills, “Lesser young men would have found a way to fail.  These are warriors with the hearts of champions.”

T.J. Sunia (#43, pictured) returned a fourth quarter fumble 39 yards for the game-winning score, and Adam Francis had a first half 49 yard interception return for another touchdown.  The fourteen defensive points were decisive, but Oceanside’s defense didn’t stop there, making three red zone stops to turn back Helix (11-1), including a pair inside the Oceanside 15 in the final 4:22 of the fourth quarter.

Postgame video interviews: T.J. Sunia/head coach John Carroll

A matchup which annually decides the Division II champion turned to heartbreak for Helix once again.  This time, the Highlanders were favored to beat their nemeses from Oceanside, with the top seed in the bracket and home field advantage.  Instead, the Scotties saw their season end at the Pirates’ hands for the sixth time in seven playoff meetings and the third year in a row.

“We just wanted it more,” said senior safety Adam Francis.

Despite two first half interceptions and the crucial fourth quarter fumble, Helix still had a first-and-goal opportunity to tie the game with 1:10 to play in the game, as a pass interference penalty set up the Scotties at the five yard line.

On first and second down, Helix tailback Darien Hancock (34 carries, 142 yards, TD) tried the middle of the field and was stopped cold.  With time ticking down to twenty seconds and Helix out of timeouts, the Highlanders were forced to burn their third down play on a spike.  On fourth and goal from the five, Helix was called for delay of game.

Pushed back to the ten yard line, quarterback Brandon Lewis’ pass for Sam Meredith went over his hands and out of bounds, sending the Pirates back to the “Q”.

The defensive scramble was an appropriate end to a ragged game which saw both teams make big mistakes on offense.  First, Helix was turned back empty handed after taking their opening drive to the Oceanside three yard line.  Sophomore linebacker William Gulley sacked Lewis for a ten yard loss on third and goal, and Vann Sabin’s 29 yard field goal attempt missed wide right.

After both teams exchanged punts, Lewis took a first down snap from the Helix ten yard line and heaved a bomb downfield for wide receiver Cameron Lee.  With the ball well over his head, Lee gave up on the pass attempt, but Oceanside senior defensive back Matthew Rojas did not.  Running down the Lewis arc for an interception, Rojas returned the pass 45 yards to the Helix 20 yard line.

While Oceanside’s ensuing drive was stopped cold by the Helix defense, Jose Basurto booted a 36 yard field goal to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead at the :39 mark of the first quarter.

The Scotties were again generous hosts on their next possession, taking a false start penalty on third-and-15 from their own 26 yard line.  Instead of running a conservative draw play or underneath pass on third-and-20, Lewis went for the downs, and his deep pass intended for Austin Gonzalez was intercepted by senior safety Adam Francis.  Weaving his way back through the Helix offense, Francis returned the interception 49 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 Oceanside lead with 9:58 to play before halftime.

“It was the greatest feeling, I can’t believe it,” said Francis of his big play.

It took a defensive play to get Helix back into the football game.  Tofi Pao Pao (9-18, 100 yards, 2 INT) was picked off by junior linebacker K.C. Smith with 2:12 to play in the second quarter, setting up Lewis’ 35 yard touchdown target to Gonzalez.  Senior defensive back Kenny Keys also intercepted Pao Pao on the final play of the first half, but his interception return was stopped at the Oceanside 18 yard line as time expired.

Trailing 10-7 to start the third quarter, Helix took the second half kickoff and marched 80 yards on 11 plays, all handoffs to Darien Hancock.  Gaining 75 of the 80 yards on the drive (the other five came on an offsides penalty), Hancock plunged into the Oceanside end zone from a yard out to give the Highlanders their first (and only) lead of the game with 6:04 to go in the third quarter.

After going three-and-out on their next possession, the Pirates turned to what else but defense to regain control of the football game.  Oceanside forced a quick three-and-out from Helix, then took advantage of a shanked punt by Jake Reed to take over at the Helix 48 yard line.  Three plays later, senior tailback Noah Tarrant stepped out of a tackle and raced 39 yards up the middle of the field for a 17-14 Pirates’ lead.

While Hancock was a horse for Helix, he wore down late in the third quarter.  Darien’s sixteenth carry of the quarter was a five-yard loss, with Gulley stripping the football loose.  Sunia scooped up the loose ball and took it 29 yards for a touchdown and a 24-14 lead.

“I blitzed and just saw the football lying there,” said Sunia, “I was unsure at first but just scooped it up, and I think the quarterback was behind me.  My instincts said ‘take it’ so I just took it and…I was blessed today.”

Still, the undefeated Highlanders were not done.  Sabin’s 46 yard field goal with 5:50 remaining made it a 24-17 game.  When Tarrant fumbled on Oceanside’s next possession, Raymont Nailon recovered for the Highlanders deep in Oceanside territory at the 20 yard line.

After gaining five yards on their first two plays, Helix took to the air, with Lewis throwing incompletions on third and fourth down in the end zone.  The Pirates then had an opportunity to run out the clock but failed to do so, punting the ball back to Helix with 2:20 to play.

Postgame audio interview: Oceanside senior Anthony Mount

A pass to Gonzalez of 30 yards set up Helix at the Oceanside 22 yard line.  On second and 10 from the 11 yard line, Lewis’ pass to Sam Meredith drew pass interference from the side judge, giving Helix a first-and-goal at the five.  But two ill-advised runs forced a spike and then a delay of game penalty set up the final, fateful incompletion.

The Pirates will now face Mission Hills in the Division II finals on Monday, December 6th at 4:30pm.  It will be a rematch of Oceanside’s 48-28 win over the Grizzlies on October 8th.

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The only thing constant in life is change. Or maybe just the fact that things may never change for the San Diego State football team.

Stop if you’ve heard this one before: the Aztecs play their hearts out in a game in which they have a chance to make a huge leap forward in their program’s history. They run up and down the field, make magical, highlight-reel plays, set records, scare the daylights out of a top team, and…well, you’ve heard this one before.

So you know how it ends. They lose.

On a rainy Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium, SDSU (once again) did everything but beat the Utah Utes, a team that just a couple of weeks ago was the undefeated fifth-ranked team in the country.

A win, and the Aztecs themselves may have been ranked come Monday morning for the first time in 15 years. Instead they fell, 38-34, the result leaving the Red and Black faithful wondering what they usually are forced to wonder after games like these…What if? How come? When are we ever? Why us?

So SDSU is 7-4 with one regular season game remaining in a season in which so may strides have been made, but also a season that — put simply — could have been so much more astonishingly remarkable and amazing.

They lost to Utah despite sweeping down the field on their opening possession of the game and scoring for a 7-0 lead just 1:59 into the contest. They lost despite scoring on three more possessions in the first half, breezing downfield with ease on drives that covered 98, 79 and 84 yards. They led, 20-3, and then again by 17 points, 27-10.

They lost despite quarterback Ryan Lindley passing for a career-high 528 yards, the fourth-most ever in Aztec history. Their two spectacular wide receivers, Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, combined for 20 catches, 338 yards and three touchdowns, yet it wasn’t enough.

Brown’s third TD of the game was one of the best plays you’d ever see a receiver make. Lindley, scrambling out of the pocket at his own 10-yard-line, threw the ball up for grabs towards Brown at the SDSU 40. Two Utah defenders were there to intercept, but Brown leaped above both of them, tipped the ball over their heads to himself and raced toward the end zone, out-running three pursuers to the goal line to complete a 90-yard touchdown that gave the Aztecs a 34-24 lead in the third quarter.

Yet, they still lost.

“In the end, we didn’t do enough for the full 60 minutes,” said Coach Brady Hoke, who has done so much to awaken this previously moribund football program yet is still searching for a way to get his team over the hump.

They won’t get there until a whole bunch of the following stuff stops happening. Utah scored on a 57-yard TD pass, beating a broken coverage, and it scored on a hail-mary 47-yard TD pass on the final play of the first half when five Aztec defenders couldn’t keep the ball from finding its way into the hands of Utes tight end Kendrick Moeai.

DeMarco Sampson reaches out to try and reel in a one-handed catch (619 Sports photo/Danny Heilprin)DeMarco Sampson reaches out to try and reel in a one-handed catch (619 Sports photo/Danny Heilprin)

In the fourth quarter, SDSU punter Brian Stahovich dropped a perfectly good snap from center, picked it up and then had his kick blocked, with Utah recovering at the 3-yard-line. Four plays later, running back Eddie Wide swept into the end zone to give the Utes their first lead of the game, 38-34, with 10:25 remaining.

Winging downfield twice on Lindley’s arm, the Aztecs still had chances to win, but both drives ended in Utah interceptions. The three SDSU turnovers in the game — plus the blocked punt — were ultimately the difference. As well as the Aztecs played, they still made key mistakes. Utah, which improved to 9-2 with the win, did not turnover the ball once.

One tough loss like this would be hard enough. But all of the Aztecs’ losses this season have been like this. They lost, 27-24, at Missouri when they allowed a 68-yard, game-winning TD pass in the final minute — the play only occurring because officials missed a blatant block-in-the-back that wiped out two Aztec defenders and cleared the way for the Tigers’ T.J. Moe to race down the sidelines.

They lost, 24-21, at BYU in part because a clear Cougars’ fumble was not called on the field nor overturned by a replay-booth full of BYU officials (supporters). They lost, 40-35, at third-ranked TCU despite jumping to a 14-0 lead and then, later, rallying for three late TD’s in the fourth-quarter.

Now this one. Four losses this season by a total of 15 points. And, just for good measure, there was a bit of controversy to deal with here as well. On the final, fateful Lindley interception — with Brown open in the end zone to perhaps win it, Utah’s Derrick Shelby delivered a forearm shiv to the face of Lindley as he let the pass go.

The illegal blow, called in football games every Saturday and Sunday of every season, sent Lindley’s throw wobbling off target, allowing Utah’s Brian Blecken to pick if off. Of course, no call was made.

For SDSU, considering where it has been, there is nothing wrong with 7-4, and perhaps an 8-4 finish if the Aztecs can beat UNLV — which they should — next weekend. One more chance for glory would await after that, in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23 against Navy.

Frustratingly, though, this season could have been so much more. But, at least for now, they’re still the Aztecs.

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SAN DIEGO-Before a stadium filled to capacity at Mesa College in the final regular season game before the playoffs, the St. Augustine Saints defeated their long time rivals the Cathedral Catholic Dons, 28-21.

“This was big, they beat us the last two-three years. This has been the game that has been circled on our calendar all season,” said Saints quarterback Evan Crower.

Watch Saints head coach Richard Sanchez get dunked during the 619 Sports postgame interview!

With less than three minutes left in the game, it was Senior Sean Davey who secured the Saints’ win by blocking a pass to the end zone from Cathedral Catholic’s quarterback Garret Bogart to receiver Chance Early.

What used to be termed the Holy War is now referred to as the Holy Bowl, annually one of the most anticipated games in San Diego county prep football. This game lived up to the billing, with the stands packed on both sides of the field, the crowd cheering and horns blowing throughout.

Cathedral Catholic leads St. Augustine in the all-time rivalry matchup 30-19. It’s been 5-5 in the last ten years.

St. Augustine (8-2, 4-1 Eastern Football League) accumulated a 21-0 lead before Cathedral Catholic (5-5, 4-1 Eastern Football League) put their first points on the scoreboard late in the second quarter.

The Saints scored on their first three drives in the first half. Junior running back Aaron Anderson rushed 16 times for 138 yards and scored the opening-rushing touchdown of the night. Saints senior quarterback Evan Crower had scoring passes to Darren Critchlow (11 yards), Nicholas Gonsalves (44 yards) and Sean Davey (33 yards).

Evan Crower said in regards to their 21-7 lead going into the second half of the game, “We wanted to set the tone early. We needed that touchdown on our first drive to start the momentum and get us through the game. Defense came up big, offensive line played great and receivers caught the ball. It was a team effort.”

Holding on to the lead was not so easy in the second half for the Saints. Cathedral Catholic quarterback Garrett Bogart had a 26-yard rushing touchdown late in the third quarter. Dons’ junior running back Andrew DeMaria caught a 14-yard passing touchdown to make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.

The Dons’ defense came up big in the second half only allowing the Saints to score on one of their five drives. This allowed them to rally some points up on the scoreboard and make it into a one-possession game.

With 4:52 left in the fourth quarter, Cathedral Catholic began the last drive of the game. They started on their own thirty-two yard line and moved the ball down to the Saints twenty-one yard line. Fourth down and minutes to go, the Dons went for the tie. Saints defensive back Davey came up big with a blocking a pass that would have tied the game.

“This is an unbelievable feeling. They (Cathedral Catholic) are champions and they have been champions for a long time, so we knew it was going to be a nail biter at the end. My players definitely wanted the win tonight and they got it,” said head coach Richard Sanchez.

The Saints and Dons finish the regular season as Eastern League co-champs. However, it is possible, maybe even likely that they will meet again in the Division III playoffs.

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LA MESA–The balance of the Helix offense makes the Highlanders an exciting team to watch.  The dominance of the Helix defense makes the “Scotties” the top team in the county.

Forcing four Steele Canyon turnovers, 2nd ranked Helix throttled the #7 Cougars 26-7 at Jim Arnaiz Field on the Helix Charter High School campus, clinching a perfect 10-0 regular season and the Grossmont Hills League championship.  Dynamic junior quarterback Brandon Lewis threw for a pair of touchdowns, his 24th and 25th of the season, and the Helix (10-0, 5-0) defense took it from there to shut down one of the section’s most physical teams in the 619 Preps Game of the Week.

“We can go far with our defense,” said Lewis, “We don’t want to rely on our defense but sometimes we have to and they help us out a lot.”

The Cougars (8-2, 4-1), who came into the night averaging close to 200 yards rushing per game, were held to 52 yards on the ground in 26 attempts.

“The Helix defense, you can tell why they’ve only given up six touchdowns all year,” said Steele Canyon head coach Ron Boehmke, “They play really hard, they’re quick and fast, can’t say enough about them.”

While the Cougars were able to slow down the Highlanders on the ground for the most part, Steele Canyon’s defense was put in a bad position multiple times thanks to turnovers.  Senior quarterback Brad Boehmke completed 16-of-34 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown, but his three interceptions doomed the Cougars to defeat.

Steele Canyon star running back Jake Wragg had a forgettable game with 18 rushes for 37 yards.  An 1,100+ yard rusher in the Cougars’ first nine games, Wragg lost an early fumble which led to Lewis’ 24 yard touchdown pass to Cameron Lee and a 7-0 Helix lead.

“We put our defense’s back against the wall a few times,” said Coach Boehmke, “I told our guys, we hadn’t see a fast-flowing, aggressive defense like that in a long time.  This is the kind of game that gets you ready for the playoffs.”

The Highlanders were forced to adjust to an injury mid-game but didn’t lose their stride offensively.  Junior tailback Darien Hancock, a 1,000+ yard rusher, carried 15 times for 59 yards, including a 23-yard scoring run on an inside draw midway through the second quarter which made it 14-0 Helix.  Hancock left the game after taking a hard hit early in the third quarter, and senior Raymont Nailon stepped in for his final regular season home game.

Nailon crashed the line for 85 yards in 17 carries, helping Helix grind out their perfect regular season.

“When our team plays together and with one heartbeat, this is what you see,” said Nailon.

Vann Sabin kicked a pair of field goals late in the second quarter to give Helix a 20-0 halftime lead.  In the third, Steele Canyon fought back for their lone touchdown of the night, as a shanked punt set up the Cougars on a 41 yard field.  Seven plays later, Boehmke hit Chanceller James on a 14 yard scoring pass, making it 20-7 Highlanders.

When the Cougars stopped Helix on a fourth and inches for a turnover on downs one possession later, it looked like Steele Canyon was going to claw its way back into the game.  That’s when Kenny Keys took over.  The 6′3″ senior defensive back stepped underneath a deep pass from Boehmke to wide receiver Britten Wright for his first of two second-half interceptions.

“I had been out with injury the last couple of weeks and wanted to come out tonight with a bang,” said Keys.

Seemingly dispirited by their offense’s mistakes, Steele Canyon gave ground on the next drive for the first time all game, as Nailon carried four straight times for a total of 51 yards.  Lewis then arced a gorgeous square out to senior wide receiver Austin Gonzalez in the end zone for a 14 yard touchdown and a 26-7 lead.

Helix stopped Steele Canyon twice on downs from there, and Keys’ second interception of the game snuffed out a last gasp drive.  The Cougars wound up with 248 yards of total offense but could never sustain a drive.

With Oceanside losing 24-14 at El Camino, the path to the #1 seed in Division-II looks good for Helix.  They will undoubtedly earn a bye and wait for their opponent in two weeks back home in La Mesa.

“It’s our first Super Bowl game, but there’s many to go,” said Nailon.

Steele Canyon, despite the loss, will likely remain a top-four seed in the stacked D-II playoff field.  Their only two losses have come to the top two teams in the county, #1 Eastlake and #2 Helix, two 10-0 programs.

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When coasting into the garage looked like the prudent course on Friday night, Oceanside Pirates head coach John Carroll stepped on the gas.

Aggressive decision-making and playcalling late in the first half helped shake the 5th ranked Pirates (7-2, 3-0 Avocado West League) out of their doldrums, and Oceanside never looked back, rolling on to a 31-2 win over the Carlsbad Lancers at renovated Simcox Field.

Oceanside sophomore quarterback Tofi Pao Pao completed 9 of his last 10 passes, finishing 13-of-18 for 151 yards and two touchdowns.  Senior running back Noah Tarrant complemented the air attack with 89 yards and two touchdowns rushing.

But for the game’s first 22 minutes, the Pirates looked like an offense lost at sea.

John Carroll’s team had managed to gain all of 22 total yards in six first-half series against Carlsbad’s defense.  With just over a minute to play before halftime, the Pirates led 7-2 thanks to a Lancers first quarter fumble.  Carlsbad had the ball, and it was time to limp into the locker room for halftime adjustments.

Instead, Carroll started calling timeouts.  Three of them, on defense, all to get his sophomore quarterback and the Pirates’ struggling offense the ball back for a one-minute drill.  Somewhere in North Carolina, Marty Schottenheimer rolled over in his sleep.

“We do have confidence, and we run a pretty good two-minute drill,” said Carroll.

Postgame audio interview: Oceanside head coach John Carroll

Starting at their 25 with 1:17 to play and no timeouts, the Pirates moved 75 yards in seven plays and 47 seconds, capped by a 24 yard touchdown pass to Matthew Rojas.  The Lancers failed to adjust to Oceanside’s two-minute strategy, which consisted of one sideline pass after another to the Pirates’ sideline.

“Calling those three timeouts, personally, it made me wonder, but coach Carroll is a great coach,” said Tarrant.

Postgame video: Noah Tarrant and Eduardo Middleton

Pao Pao hit five of six passes on the hurry-up drive, then hit on all four of his targets in the second half, as the Pirates scored seventeen third quarter points to salt the game away.  Tarrant’s 25 yard touchdown run was followed by a 25 yard scoring pass from Pao Pao to Demario Coleman (5 receptions, 65 yards, TD).

Meanwhile, the Oceanside defense, which allowed the Lancers only two first downs in the first half, intercepted three passes after halftime to completely throttle the Carlsbad scoring attack.  Junior QB Tanner Wrisley made his first career start for the Lancers, completing 5 of 11 passes for 110 yards and two interceptions.  Senior Cody Pinner relieved and went 1-for-5 for 12 yards and a pick.

“(Wrisley) had some nerves but did some good things,” said longtime Carlsbad head coach Bob McAllister, “they’re both in an equal battle and will battle it out in practice, we’ll see whathappens.”

A ground-oriented attack, Carlsbad (4-5, 1-2) was held to 21 yards rushing on 28 attempts.

Postgame audio interview: Bob McAllister

Combined with an El Camino loss, Oceanside’s win clinched the Avocado West League title for the Pirates.  Next week, Oceanside will play El Camino for the City Championship and the bragging rights which come with it.

“The City Championship’s a big deal,” said Carroll, “No matter if you win a league championship, the city championship’s a big deal.”

And you know the Pirates will be ready.


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CARLSBAD–Legendary Oceanside head coach John Carroll saw more than a victory on Friday night for his Pirates team.  He saw growth.

“I’m seeing a team grow in front of my eyes,” Carroll told his charges after 6th ranked Oceanside scored 31 unanswered points to blow out the 8th ranked La Costa Canyon Mavericks 38-14 at the Robert Driver Sports Complex on the LCC campus.

Trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter, the Pirates (6-2, 2-0 Avocado West League) scored on five of their next six possessions to take control away from the home team.  Three consecutive touchdowns closed out a dominant second quarter which saw Oceanside rack up 154 of their 325 total yards for the game.

Noah Tarrant (pictured) led Oceanside on the ground with 20 carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns.  Sophomore quarterback Tofi Pao Pao, the leader in passing yards for North County, had an up-and-down game with 11-18 passing for 135 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“You’ve got to give credit to our offensive line, they did an outstanding job,” said Carroll, “That was an excellent La Costa Canyon defense we faced tonight.”

The outstanding individual performance for Oceanside came from senior wide receiver and defensive back Matthew Rojas, who proved to have a nose for the football all night.  On offense, Rojas collected three catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns, including a juggling 22 yard grab along the back line of the end zone to give the Pirates a 21-14 second quarter lead.

Postgame interviews (VIDEO): Matthew Rojas and head coach John Carroll:

On defense, Rojas got the third quarter started right for Oceanside, snapping off LCC’s opening drive at the Pirates’ 39 yard line when he intercepted Mavericks senior quarterback Garrett Krstich (14-31 passing, 158 yards, 2 TD/3 INT) in the red zone.

“We’re a young team, and it takes time to progress and we’re getting it together,” said Rojas, “We’re becoming one (as a team).”

In a game of adjustments, first year head coach Sean Sovacool made the first move of the night, gameplanning his offensive attack around a relative unknown.  With senior leading receiver Nte Rudnick out with a knee injury, the Mavericks  (5-3, 2-1) targeted tight end Jake Jackson early and often.

Jackson caught 4 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but was blanked in the second half after the Pirates defense adjusted.

“I thought we were a little uncertain early, but once we settled in we were outstanding in all three phases of the game, including pass defense,” said Carroll.

Responding to Krstich’s second quarter go-ahead 11 yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Frankie Wims, the Pirates marched 72 yards in just five plays to tie the game, with Tarrant racing up the middle 28 yards for his second score and a 14-14 tie.

Two-way receiver/defensive back Nate Small then made the defensive play of the game for Oceanside, jumping an underneath route for an interception at the LCC 22 yard line.  On the next play, Pao Pao found Rojas underneath the goalpost and just inside the back line, and the Pirates were ahead for good.

After forcing a three-and-out on defense, the Oceanside offense then executed a near-perfect 51 yard, 11 play drive, bleeding off all but 32 seconds of the first half clock before Pao Pao hit Rojas on a wide open square out to the left part of the end zone from 14 yards away.

The second half was a parade of misery for LCC, as the Mavericks turned the ball over one way or another on every possession after halftime.  Krstich drove LCC over 50 yards on the first possession of the third quarter before Rojas’ interception.

Krstich hit backup wideout Brendan Gaughan for a possible first down the next time the Mavericks had the ball, only to see the junior fumble, recovered by Oceanside’s Ryshaud Keegan.  Jose Basurto’s 25 yard field goal made it 31-14 Pirates.

When senior safety Adam Francis picked off Krstich for LCC’s third turnover in as many third quarter possessions, the writing was on the wall.  The Mavericks defense played much better in the second half, holding Oceanside to 86 total yards after halftime, but LCC’s offense turned the ball over on downs on their final two series.

Anthony Mount turned in another versatile and effective game for Oceanside.  The senior wingback carried eight times for 72 yards and added two receptions for 27 more.

With both schools back in Division II, these two could meet again in the playoffs or even at Qualcomm Stadium.  The Pirates will head home next week for only their second home game of the season at newly renovated Simcox Field, taking on Carlsbad, while La Costa Canyon will host El Camino.

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The top-ranked Vista Panthers’ dreams for an undefeated season ended on Friday Night as the Mission Hills Grizzlies came from behind twice to post a 31-28 upset win at Mission Hills High School.

Gio Garcia’s 32 yard field goal with three minutes to play in the fourth quarter, his first field goal attempt and make of the year, gave Mission Hills the victory. The kick came after a muffed punt by Vista star tailback Shakeel Marshall, who fumbled twice on the game.

Mission Hills Grizzlies (6-2, 3-0 Avocado East) head coach Chris Hauser stated in regards to his team’s success, “This is a tremendous feeling, this season is one of a kind we have not felt like this, this year. We have won five games prior to this, but nothing compares to what we went through tonight.”

“To be down and come back and rally and get to them and find a way to get the lead and hang on to it, it means the world to our school, our football team and to the coach and staff.”

Postgame video and interview with Coach Hauser:

No one would have suspected this victory at the beginning of the game as Mission Hills trailed 14-0 in the first five minutes of opening quarter. A twenty-seven yard touchdown pass to Aaron Salas by Mission Hills quarterback Hunter Moore gave the Grizzlies their first points on the scoreboard. With only two minutes left in the first quarter Hunter Moore tied the game up with a sixty-eight yard touchdown run, making it a 14-14 game.

Hunter Moore definitely had a great game. The senior quarterback completed 11-of-14 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and carried the ball for 109 yards and had one touchdown, and two passing touchdowns.

Coach Hauser said in response to Moore’s great game, “He was a special kid tonight. We needed him to do things with his legs and arm tonight and lead this football team and that is what he did.”

“There was no special magic, no special words of wisdom we just believed in our game plan,” said Hauser.

The Grizzlies were again down early in the second half 28-14. This was not for long. Sitting in the Mission Hills stands, fans began to see some magic with a team that began to just believe.

In the key play of the night, Vista’s Shackeel Marshall (19 carries, 182 yards) fumbled all alone while running in for what looked to be a touchdown and a 35-21 lead. Instead, the ball was dropped untouched at the sixteen yard line and recovered by the Grizzlies. This led to Mission Hills’ fourteen-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Moore to Aaron Salas that tied the game 28-28.

“Turnovers lost this game for us, that’s the bottom line,” said Vista head coach Dan Williams.

Tied 28-28 in the fourth quarter, Mission Hills was stopped on offense and forced to punt. Marshall waited for the kick at his twelve yard line but muffed the punt, recovered by Mission Hills gunner Mitchell Cannon. While the “Blackshirts” defense held strong and pushed the Grizzlies back three yards, Gio Garcia delivered the clutch field goal which propelled the upset from 32 yards away.

As for the Mission Hills team, this was the first time in the game where they took the lead 31-28. With three minutes left, Mission Hills defense shut down Vista’s last drive of the game, giving them victory.

Vista falls to 7-1, 2-1 in league with the loss. Mission Hills, meanwhile, controls its own destiny in the Avocado East league and is sure to break into the 619 Sports/NC Times Top 10 poll after this huge win. It was a victory to savor for Hauser, a Panthers alum who left Vista’s coaching staff in 2003 to move to Mission Hills.


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The “Battle for the Claymore Sword” had been a one-sided affair for 22 years.  Then, last season, Mount Miguel finally defeated their East County rivals from Helix 44-21, taking possession of the perpetual plaque with crossed swords which had gathered dust in the Highlanders’ trophy case.

Attention Helix High custodial staff: you can clear the old space for it once again.

Brandon Lewis threw for three of his four touchdown passes after halftime, and the Highlanders’ defense suffocated Mount Miguel’s first team offense completely in a 37-7 win at a packed Matador Stadium in Spring Valley.

Leaning on the strong running of junior tailback Darien Hancock (20 carries, 124 yards, 31-yard receiving TD), Helix’s zone-read offense wore down Mount Miguel’s stubborn defense, then forced the Matadors to commit a safety down into the box.

The result was lots of space outside for the Helix passing game, and Lewis took advantage.  He was 6-for-6 for 122 yards and three touchdowns after halftime, using good protection to find his favorite targets Jimmy Pruitt (4 receptions, 61 yards, TD) and Sam Meredith (4 receptions, 37 yards, TD).

Lewis finished the game 13-for-17 for 182 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

Video postgame interview: Brandon Lewis

The real story was a Helix defense which is going to submit its name right next to Cathedral Catholic and Vista as the best in San Diego Section.  For the fourth time in five games, the Helix first-team defensive unit did not allow a point to be scored against them.  Led by Meredith, a hybrid tight end/defensive lineman who is being recruited by SDSU, BYU and Stanford, the Highlanders held Mount Miguel to 129 total yards, including just 20 rushing yards.

Mount Miguel star tailback Derrick Dunn, who came into the night with four 100+ yard rushing games and ten touchdowns in five games, struggled to get into positive yardage all night, finishing with ten carries for six yards and a touchdown.  

The Highlanders pose as a team with the Claymore SwordThe Highlanders pose as a team with the Claymore Sword

Helix set the tone for the game in the first quarter with a bruising 14 play drive, chewing up over eight minutes of the clock.  Hancock carried nine times on the drive for 53 of the 59 yards gained, as the Scotties ground their way to the Matadors’ 17 yard line.  The result of the march was a Jake Reed 32 yard field goal for a 3-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.

With Mount Miguel going three-and-out on their final four possessions of the first half, Helix would have plenty of time to find their way offensively.  Lewis capped a 10 play, 62 yard drive with a fourth down, 3 yard touchdown pass to Meredith at the 4:04 mark of the second quarter, putting the Highlanders ahead 10-0.  They would hold the lead into halftime, along with a yardage advantage of 146-42.

It was just a preview of the carnage to come, as Mount Miguel committed to stopping Hancock in the second half, and Helix took advantage.  A screen to Meredith for 25 yards jump-started the opening drive of the third quarter, which finished with Lewis hitting a wide open Pruitt for a 10-yard slant pass touchdown and a 17-0 lead.

After another three-and-out courtesy of the Helix defense, Lewis came out firing.  He arced a 25 yard pass to reserve wideout Romello Carbuccia, then hit Hancock underneath the defense for a 31-yard catch-and-run screen pass touchdown.  24-0 Helix.

Four plays later, it was 31-0.  Mount Miguel quarterback Ernest Williams (6-for-13, 37 yards) was sacked on the next series, with Meredith recovering his fumble.  On the next play, Lewis took advantage of good protection to fire a slant over the middle for Cameron Lee.  The junior wideout caught the pass in stride and took it right up the middle of the field for Lewis’ third touchdown target in six throws.

Second team Helix running back Michael Atkins was the beneficiary of an exhausted Matadors defense in the fourth quarter, rushing eight times for 99 yards and a touchdown.

Mount Miguel finally scored with 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, but only after the backup Helix long snapper rolled a ground ball out to his punter on fourth and long, setting up the Matadors on the four yard line.  Dunn took it in for a 37-7 score.

On the next play, Helix crouched in victory formation but somehow four Matadors players managed to perfectly time the snap and jump over the top of the line, forcing a fumble.  Mount Miguel recovered, a rare and incredible play that seemed wasted on a 30-point game.  It indeed was wasted, as the Matadors worked behind backup QB Dee’Jay Nolen (6-for-13, 72 yards, INT) for a few extra yards but no more points.

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It came down to eight plays inside the Vista 12 yard line.  Eight chances for Oceanside to put six points on the board.  The Pirates tried everything from power runs and slant passes to misdirection and finally, a trick play gone wrong.

The Panthers didn’t break.  In doing so, the Panthers broke a four-year streak of county domination by Oceanside and claimed a win for the ages.

The #1 ranked Vista Panthers (4-0) twice stopped #4 Oceanside (2-2) on a fourth down situation inside their seven-yard line, forced five turnovers and four sacks, and still held on for dear life to beat the Pirates 27-21 at Dick Haines Stadium.

The 619 Preps Game of the Week lived up to its billing, with two of the top programs in the county trading body blows.  Vista trailed 14-10 at halftime but scored two third-quarter touchdowns to take the lead.  After building a 27-14 advantage, the Panthers withstood a relentless charge by Oceanside, including an onside kick recovered with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter.

“This is a game you’ll always have in your memories, but it’s not a game that defines our season,” head coach Dan Williams told his team after the game.  The Panthers have higher hopes, primarily a return trip to Qualcomm Stadium.

A win over Oceanside is nothing to sneeze at, though.  The Pirates hadn’t lost to a San Diego Section team since falling at Helix 28-20 on August 31st, 2007.

The Panthers’ offensive line overcame early struggles to open holes for senior tailback Shakeel Marshall, who rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns.  127 of his yards came in the second half, including 70 yards on Vista’s go-ahead 6 play, 80 yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter.

“In the first half, we weren’t sure what to expect,” said Marshall, “We made our adjustment in the locker room and we executed it.”

Postgame video interviews: Stefan McClure/Shakeel Marshall

The adjustment Oceanside needed to make was to screw the football in a bit more tightly.  Returning from injury, senior tailback Noah Tarrant (15 carries, 75 yards, TD) lost fumbles on two of his first three touches, setting the tone for a night of Pirate giveaways.

Sophomore Pirates quarterback Tofi Pao Pao again showed off a cannon arm and tight spiral which will undoubtedly make him one of the top players in the county in coming years.  He finished 13-for-29 for 219 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw an interception and lost a fumble.

Credit has to go to the Vista defense, which on three different occasions turned aside the Pirates inside their red zone without allowing any points.  The first was a crucial defensive stop to end the second quarter.  Leading 14-10 on a 16-yard touchdown run by Tarrant and Pao Pao’s 10-yard scoring target to Nate Small, the Pirates got the ball on their own 7 yard line with 4:12 remaining in the half.

Oceanside marched 81 yards in seven plays to the Vista 12 yard line and threatened to take an eleven point lead into the locker room.  Instead, Panthers linemen Justin Ponce and Joey McFadden came up with back-to-back sacks to push the Pirates back to the 18.  From there Jose Basurto’s 35 yard field goal try missed wide left with 24 seconds left before halftime.

Marshall’s 37 yard run out of a broken tackle highlighted the Panthers’ opening drive of the third quarter, which was capped by a five-yard touchdown pass from Vista quarterback Christian Gallardi to senior wideout Stefan McClure (5 receptions, 56 yards).

The Vista defense continued to pound away at Pao Pao, who showed great toughness for a sophomore hanging in the pocket despite heavy pressure all game.  However, when linebacker John Palmer came free on a third quarter blitz and crushed Pao Pao, he fumbled and the Panthers recovered.

Vista quickly converted on Marshall’s second touchdown run of the game, a twelve yard scamper.  His score was set up by heavy running from the Panthers’ bruising fullback McFadden, who added 56 yards on 11 carries on the night.

The game seemed to be slipping away from Oceanside.  A Pao Pao sideline pass was intercepted by senior Vista linebacker Jeremiah Kose and converted into a Brandon Ivy 32 yard field goal for a 27-14 lead.

“I really didn’t like the way we played in the third quarter,” said Oceanside head coach John Carroll, “I thought the defense played poorly, and it took us giving up two touchdowns to make an adjustment.  But in the fourth quarter we were a championship-level football team.”

The Pirates then held the ball for 11 plays to start the fourth quarter, driving all the way to the Vista 2 yard line.  A crucial false start on second-and-goal from the 2 pushed Oceanside back five yards and forced them to pass.  Pao Pao missed on three straight, overthrowing Demario Coleman (five catches, 122 yards, TD) on the last corner route.

The Pirates didn’t get the ball back until the 3:18 mark, but with a quarterback like Pao Pao, you’re never out of a game.  Unloading a powerful arcing spiral down the right sideline, Pao Pao connected with Coleman on a gorgeous 53-yard fly pattern for a blitzkrieg score to change momentum.

Oceanside then went for the onside kick, which was booted right at Kose.  The senior (who had earlier dropped two perfect passes over the middle as a tight end, each of which would have gone for huge yardage) saw the ball carom right off his hands and into the scrum, where the Pirates’ Kris Moore recovered.

Pao Pao hit senior receiver Matthew Rojas for a 21-yard gain and then found Coleman underneath for 22 more.  Suddenly the Pirates were on the Vista 12, knocking on the door to take the lead and steal a win out of Dick Haines Stadium.

First, an incompletion.  Then, senior receiver Anthony Mount got stopped for three yards on a sweep.  On third and seven, Pao Pao scrambled and seemingly had an open corner of the end zone to run for, but he hesitated to look at the field and only wound up gaining four yards.

Fourth down and three from the Vista five yard line.  The Pirates called timeout, then the Panthers, then the Pirates again.  Finally, Oceanside lined up and surprised everyone by going for a wide receiver reverse option pass.

Everyone but Vista, that is.  Linebacker TJ McWhite helped blow up the play and string the receiver Nate Small out to the sideline.  Small retreated further and further back, all the way past the 25 yard line.  Finally he let a pass go deep into the middle of the end zone, where McClure was waiting to haul it in and secure the win for the Panthers.

Vista’s McClure and Kose both insisted the Panthers were looking for the trick play and were ready for it.  That led to an exasperated laugh from Oceanside coach John Carroll:

“It’s the first time we used it all year!” said Carroll, “We used it years ago…they must have remembered.”

These rivals have long memories.

The win was a relief for Kose, who would have been the goat if Oceanside could have scored.

“It was amazing,” said Kose, “Coach (Williams) emphasized how good they were, how they were going to run all over us and pass all over us, so it really got us fired up.”

Vista will hit the road now for back-to-back regional rivalry games against El Camino and Escondido.  Oceanside will re-open renovated Simcox Field next week when they host Mission Hills.

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