The Nipomo High School football team has played three football games this season, and the Titans have won them all.
The visiting Titans (3-0, 1-0) kept enough of the 26-6 third-quarter lead they built at Pioneer Valley Friday night to come away with a 26–20 win in the Mountain League opener for both teams. The Panthers are 0-2, 0-1.
Being 3-0 at this point “is a real nice note for us going into our bye week,” said Nipomo coach Tony Dodge.
“We’re a little banged up. We can use that time to heal. We were missing several starters tonight. Their back-ups stepped up.”
Nipomo senior quarterback Nate Reese did some of just about everything in his team’s win Friday night.
His short pass to Gabe Sanchez in the first quarter wound up being worth 74 yards, bringing the ball to the Panthers' 6. That set up a one-yard Vinny Hernandez touchdown run.
Reese connected with Raemar Agnes for 31 yards down the Nipomo sideline and a touchdown on fourth down in the second. “(Agnes) did a good job to get open on that one,” said Reese.
Reese kicked a 22-yard field goal after the Panthers made a goal line stand inside their own 1 near the end of the first half. He juked a defender at the Panthers 25 on a 40-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Finally, he intercepted a fourth-down pass in the end zone at the 2:24 mark of the fourth quarter as the Panthers were making a bid to make the lead.
After the Reese interception, the second of just two accepted penalties against the Panthers on the night was a 15-yard facemask call that gave the Titans a first down. With the Panthers out of timeouts, Gabe Evans sealed it with a seven-yard second effort run on third down that gave his team just enough for the first down. Reese took a knee on the next snap, and that was that.
The Titans, up 20 in the third, looked set to win handily. That changed with two Pioneer Valley big plays.
After the Reese touchdown run, Adan Rubalcava took the kickoff and ran 88 yards down the Pioneer Valley sideline for a score.
With the Panthers trailing 26-13 in the fourth, Pioneer Valley quarterback Richie Robles dropped a grounder of a snap, picked the ball up, got out of a would-be tackler’s grasp and hit Rubalcava for a 74-yard score to bring the Panthers within 26-20.
The Panthers later drove to the Titans 19, but Hernandez and Ben Cepeda nailed Robles for a three-yard loss on third down. The quarterback’s fourth down pass for Rubalcava never had a chance, sailing over the receiver’s head in the end zone and into the backpedaling Reese’s hands.
The defenses played better than the final score indicated they did. Hernandez, Evans and Cepeda helped the Titans keep the Panthers offense from getting enough going consistently.
The Titans came up with four Panthers turnovers. Pioneer Valley put the ball on the ground six times, losing three of those fumbles though the Titans couldn’t capitalize on any of those three turnovers.
“The defense has been the biggest strength of our team all year,” said Reese.
Adrian Mora helped the Panthers bottle up the Titans ground game for the most part, but the Titans made enough key plays to pull through. There was the Reese touchdown run. There was the third-down stop on Robles. There was the second-effort Evans run that effectively ended the game.
Besides everything else he did Friday night, Reese was the Titans’ punter and place kicker, and he handled both jobs pretty well.
“I was the kicker last year,” he said. “I was the punter too, but we didn’t punt much.”
The turnout Friday night was a good one. The home rooting section was packed, and the stands on the visitors side were more than half full.
Rubalcava also had an interception in the third quarter and caught a touchdown pass for the Panthers' first score.
Reese threw for 177 yards and the touchdown while rushing for 48 yards and another school. He also made two tackles and had the interception.
Hernandez had 50 yards rushing and the touchdown, two sacks, two forced fumbles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry.
Pioneer Valley will play at Templeton at 7 p.m., next Friday night. That's a non-league game.