By Michael Bower
The Poway High football team was playing for respect in last Friday’s CIF San Diego Section Division II semifinal against second-seeded Helix.
The Titans earned that with a
On Saturday, third-seeded Poway will be playing for something else: back-to-back section titles.
The defending SDS Division I champion Titans have the rare opportunity to win consecutive section crowns but in different divisions, when it faces No. 1 Oceanside Saturday at 7:35 p.m. at Escondido High in the SDS Division II championship game.
It will be the second meeting between the two this season, as the Pirates knocked off Poway in Week 4, 23-13, at Poway High.
The Titans enter the game as a slight underdog, but that has been a role they have excelled in throughout these past two years. Poway has no reason to think things will change now.
“Our team definitely has a calm swagger to them,” said Poway coach Damian Gonzalez, who led the school to both of its section championships (2007, 2011). “But anytime somebody doubts you and you are a competitor it puts a chip on your shoulder and brings out the best in you.”
The Titans will try to become the first team other than Helix and Oceanside to win the Division II title since Monte Vista won it in 2003.
In order to do that, Poway must beat a Pirates squad that has posted five shutouts and is led by arguably the most talented quarterback in the section, Tofi Paopao.
“Tofi is just incredible and he can put the ball anywhere on the field,” Gonzalez said. “He has a lot of weapons at his disposal and a strong arm so that is what makes their offense scary.”
Paopao’s biggest threat to Poway is his ability to read coverages and change plays at the line of scrimmage.
In the first half of the first meeting between the two, Paopao used long snap counts to sniff out blitzes.
Oceanside was highly successful with the screen play because of audibles Paopao made at the line.
The Poway defense did make changes at halftime and shutout Oceanside 13-0 after the break.
“It will definitely be a chess game,” Poway defensive coordinator Robby Sevier said. “We have some different things planned. Sometimes we might show one thing and actually do another. In the second half of the first game, we faked a lot of blitzes and ran different stuff and that confused him. You have to do that, otherwise he will pick you apart.”
Paopao has a bag full of weapons, including playmakers Thai Cotrell, T.K. Dodds and Mikah Holder. William Gulley leads the running attack. There is no bigger challenge for a defense than stopping those guys.
“We have to be great at tackling,” Sevier said. “They will complete some passes and run the football. They just have too many weapons not to. But what it really is going to be about is tackling and being sound at what we do.”
What the Titans do is relentlessly attack. Poway had nine sacks in the win over Helix and will need to find a formula to get pressure on Paopao in order to slow down the spread offense.
Linebackers Alec Moreno and Max Michaels and defensive linemen Jonathan Petersen, Barnard Walker and Tahj Haywood have all been living in the backfield throughout these playoffs.
That along with the confidence from a second-half shutout of the Pirates in the first meeting has Poway fans thinking upset.
“The first game was a tale of two halves,” Gonzalez said. “Our kids know they can compete with them so that gives them a boost of confidence. And going in as the underdog definitely gives us an advantage. We are hoping that maybe they are overlooking us.”
Easily overlooked is the Titans’ offense and special teams. Poway is led by running back Nehemiah Gross. The senior has piled up 1,339 yards and a team-leading 23 TDs on the ground this year.
Derek Babiash and Conor Flanagan are the leading threats at receiver, each with 24 catches. The Arizona-bound Babiash has seven TD receptions. Punt returner Ryan Sharpe is always a threat to reach the end zone.
They will all need to play solid on Saturday, if Poway wants to be crowned king of high school football in San Diego.
“It would definitely be the perfect ending,” Michaels said.
No. 3 Poway (10-2) vs. No. 1 Oceanside (11-1)
Saturday, 7:35 p.m.
Time Warner, channel 411
CIF San Diego Section Division II championship.
Oceanside has won 14 of 21 meetings between the two.
Oceanside 23, Poway 13 on Sept. 21, 2012
Poway 17, Oceanside 16