Prep Football: Dynamic athletes highlight Oceanside-Poway High showdown
By Michael Bower
There might not be a single game this year with more dynamic athletes on one field than the one taking place Friday night (kickoff at 7) at Poway High.
Perennial San Diego Section powerhouse Oceanside will put its explosive, big-play offense against the Titans’ shutdown, ball-hawking defense in a clash between two of the top football teams in the county.
The Pirates, ranked No. 1 in the section, have not scored less than 30 points in a game this season, while Poway has not given up more than 10 points in a single outing.
However, the fifth-ranked Titans (2-1) have not faced an offense with as many weapons as the Pirates (2-1) will run onto the field Friday night.
“They are so athletic all the way around that it is scary,” Poway High coach Damian Gonzalez said of Oceanside. “They have four receivers that can catch the ball and their running back is really good. We have a huge challenge ahead of us. This is probably the most athletic team we will face this year.”
Everywhere you turn the Pirates have a playmaker and it all starts with three-year starting quarterback Tofi Paopao, who threw for 242 yards and two TDs in a 48-0 win over Mira Mesa last week.
Then there are blazing-fast receivers Jace Whittaker, Mikah Holder and T.K. Dodds — all capable of breaking a big play. Whittaker is a dual threat, as the 5-foot, 9-inch speedster rushed for a TD last week.
But the Titans have a ton of athleticism and speed of their own, especially in the secondary.
Half of Poway’s state-qualifying 400-meter relay team will be in coverage with Nehemiah Gross at cornerback and Chris French at safety.
Arizona-bound cornerback Derek Babiash was part of the state-qualifying 1,600-meter relay team and already has four picks this year.
Throw in Nevada-bound Alec Moreno and Max Michaels at linebacker, along with speedy safeties Ryan Sharpe and Conor Flanagan and it’s clear why teams have not had much success passing the ball on Poway.
“Our defense has been outstanding,” Gonzalez said. “They are doing really well and are excited about this opportunity. Our kids have been waiting for this match up for a long time.”
Oceanside has shown some vulnerability to giving up big plays on the ground, which plays right into the strength of Poway.
Running backs Gross and Lance Mudd, another member of the 400-meter relay team last year, have the home-run ability.
The two were bottled up a few weeks ago in a 10-9 loss to No. 2 La Costa Canyon, but both have shown with very little room they can bust loose for a game-changing TD run.
That will need to happen Friday night in order for the Titans to pull off the upset.
“I really think this game is going to come down to attrition, who will be left standing at the end,” Gonzalez said. “We are both two dominate teams and it is going to be a dogfight.”
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