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Pirates thrash Mavericks, advance to finals for eighth straight season

CARLSBAD – For Oceanside, the usual road to Qualcomm Stadium took a detour through La Costa Canyon in the Division II semifinals – and the Pirates treated the host Mavericks like a speed bump. On Thursday night, third-seeded Oceanside forced five turnovers and dominated second-seeded La Costa Canyon 27-7 to reach the section finals for the eighth consecutive season.

“This is the stuff that you dream of,” said Oceanside head coach John Carroll. “Hats off to these guys for being so persistent in their determination to excel.”

Oceanside (9-2-1) took a 3-0 lead midway through the second quarter on a Fernando Elizarraraz 23-yard field goal – and then its defense took over the game. Five consecutive La Costa Canyon turnovers later, the Pirates held a 27-point lead late in the third quarter.

“If we’re in the right spot and the ball comes to us, we’re going to get it,” said Oceanside linebacker/running back William Gulley.

Following the field goal, La Costa Canyon running back Isaac Maquet fumbled near midfield and Oceanside defensive back Jayce Wittaker recovered. The Pirates capitalized on the turnover, stretching their lead to 10-0 on a Gulley 42-yard touchdown run with 3:12 left in the second quarter.

“I’m always trying to make a physical statement when I am on the football field,” Gulley said. “I want to let the other team know that I’m there and I’m going to stay there.”

Oceanside defensive back Jermaine Calhoun pounced on an errant La Costa Canyon lateral on the next drive, but the Mavericks were able to keep the Pirates from scoring before the break. In the third quarter, La Costa Canyon (9-3) wasn’t as fortunate.

“We came out ready to play, we had momentum, and we just wanted it,” said Oceanside lineman Eduardo Middleton.

La Costa Canyon took to the air on the opening possession of the second half and on the second play from scrimmage, Whittaker picked off Mavericks quarterback Jake Sesti and returned the ball to the 10-yard line. Oceanside took advantage of the short field, extending its lead to 13 with an Elizarraraz 22-yard field goal.

“It wasn’t just one guy, it was everyone doing their job and executing,” Middleton said. “We were just making plays and coming up with the ball.”

On the following drive, Oceanside’s defense extended the lead on its own. Oceanside lineman Grant Bays sacked Sesti and knocked the ball loose to force fumble that bounced right to Middleton, and the 290-pound senior returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.

“I didn’t know what to do with the ball – I was just carrying it,” Middleton said. “I saw the end zone and I just tried to take it home.”

Middleton’s scoring rumble gave Oceanside a 20-0 lead less than five minutes into the third quarter. Pirates defensive back Daniel Cedillo completed the Pirates’ five-takeaway stretch on the next possession, intercepting Sesti and returning the ball to the La Costa Canyon 28-yard line.

“When they had to throw the ball, our secondary were ballhawks,” Carroll said.

Oceanside methodically added to its lead after the interception, taking almost five minutes on its 28-yard touchdown drive. Gulley capped the drive with a one-yard score to put the Pirates ahead 27-0 late in the third quarter.

“We brought a level of intensity that we didn’t bring the first time we played,” Carroll said. “It was a great defensive performance.”

La Costa Canyon avoided the shutout early in the fourth quarter with a Sesti nine-yard touchdown pass to Brenden Gaughan, but Oceanside ran out the final nine minutes to secure the victory. The Pirates decisively avenged a 21-16 regular season loss to the Mavericks.

“We came in fired up and we wanted revenge,” Middleton said. “You don’t want to lose to a team twice. We had some fire and we wanted to prove to them the last time was a fluke.”

Though the regular season loss to La Costa Canyon offered plenty of motivation, so too did a Mavericks hype video posted on YouTube four days before the game. The seven-minute video featured highlights from the first game and some text that didn’t thrill the Pirates.

“It was definitely a motivator,” Middleton said.

With the win, Oceanside advances to the Division II finals on Monday with an eighth consecutive section title in its sights. The Pirates will face familiar foe Helix (11-1) in Qualcomm Stadium for the seventh time in 10 seasons, renewing a postseason rivalry with the top-seeded Highlanders.

“It’s crazy – from that first spring practice to Monday, this is everything that we’ve practiced for,” Middleton said. “To get there and contribute to the tradition is definitely special.”

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