Two teams will carry momentum into Saturday's game at Pioneer Valley.

Only one will leave with that momentum intact. 

Pioneer Valley will enter the 3 p.m. football game coming off its 13-6 win over Mission Prep on March 31. The Panthers handed the Royals their first defeat of the spring then.

Tommy Nuñez, a senior running back who also starts at linebacker, scored both touchdowns in the Panthers' win, catching a 3-yard pass from quarterback Angel Vargas and ripping off a 16-yard touchdown run in the second half to extend a Pioneer Valley lead it would not relinquish. 

After the win over Mission, Nuñez said the Panthers were out to make a statement that the team is different this spring after going 1-9 in the fall of 2019.

"Man, it's an amazing feeling after the (bad) season last year, we want to switch stuff around this year," Nuñez said. "It's time for a change. We were postponed because of COVID, but we bounced back. That's how you come back. We've got Nipomo up next and we're looking forward to that."

The Panthers (1-0) are actually in the driver's seat for the Ocean League title as the only unbeaten league team. Nipomo, Santa Maria and Mission Prep all entered this weekend 2-1 on the season. Atascadero and Morro Bay were both 0-3 entering their game Friday.

Pioneer Valley clearly appeared to be the more physical team against Mission Prep, a young group with just about every starter a junior or younger. Nipomo has a bit more experience and size than Mission Prep, but the Panthers could have an advantage in physicality Saturday like they did against Mission Prep. 

"We knew they were young and we came in with the mindset that if we fought and executed our plays, we could eventually wear them out," Pioneer Valley coach John Beck said of his team's game-plan against Mission Prep. "'Wear them down and play a more physical brand of football,' that was the mindset."

Nipomo may be a bit tougher to wear down Saturday. The Titans enter the game with back-to-back wins after a disappointing 24-10 loss to Mission Prep in their season opener. They rallied to beat Santa Maria 21-14 in one of the wildest games of the spring season on March 20 before routing Morro Bay 42-7 last week. 

Mission Prep also entered that March 31 game at Pioneer Valley playing its third contest in 11 days. Nipomo should be a bit fresher after beating Morro Bay at home on April 2.

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The Titans are 2-1. The Nipomo offense has improved every week. The Titans rolled past winless Morro Bay (0-3) last week as quarterback Nate Reese, a junior, completed 13-of-18 passes for 110 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Nipomo rushed for 259 yards and three scores in the win. Josh Smith, a senior, had 79 yards on nine carries with a touchdown. Keyshawn Pu'a, another senior, added 66 yards on 12 carries with another touchdown. Reese also scored a rushing touchdown. 

Gabe Evans, a sophomore, is the Titans' leading rusher on the season with 132 yards on 27 carries. He had 76 yards on seven carries against Morro Bay.

Justin McKee and Declan Coles are Nipomo's top receivers. Coles has 11 catches for 104 yards and a score and McKee has five catches for 65 yards and one touchdown. Izaiah Perales (7 rec., 69 yards) can also contribute in the passing game.

Pioneer Valley has played just one game after the Panthers' first two contests were rescheduled on March 18 after the team was put into quarantine due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the program. 

So their opener was the odd Wednesday game against Mission Prep, which came into that one 2-0 with wins over Nipomo Atascadero (56-6). 

But the Pioneer Valley defense was lights out against a Mission Prep offense that had employed an explosive rushing attack the week prior. After Mission Prep freshman Drew Harrigan rushed for 172 yards and three scores against Atascadero, Pioneer Valley limited him to 54 yards on 15 carries. Junior Jack Susank had 161 yards against Atascadero with three touchdowns, but was limited to 39 yards on six carries against Pioneer Valley on March 31.

Pioneer Valley is scheduled to play at Santa Maria on April 16 and close out its season against Atascadero on April 23. Nipomo's last game currently scheduled is for April 16 at Atascadero.

Teams could add games. The CIF Central Section is allowing the football season to run to May 1. Santa Maria, for instance, has added an April 23 game against Paso Robles and could, possibly, add another game April 30.

Games attendance is currently limited to immediate family members.


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