Matthew Lickona 11:49 p.m., Dec. 10
Highlanders race past Golden Eagles for first state title
CARSON – On the biggest stage of the 2011 season, Helix delivered a historic result. Saturday night at Home Depot Center, the Highlanders raced past Loomis Del Oro with a big second quarter and controlled the second half for a 35-24 victory in the Division II State Bowl.
“We have great players and they played big in the biggest game. I’m very proud of them,” said Helix head coach Troy Starr. “This is the biggest win in school history.”
After a slow start, Helix (13-1) trailed Del Oro early in the second quarter. The Highlanders gained only 35 yards in the first quarter and sought an offensive spark against a physical Golden Eagles’ defense.
“Our plan was to run the ball because we saw film and knew that’s what they were going to give us,” said Helix quarterback Brandon Lewis. “But they started crowding the box and we just took advantage of it – we started to throw it more.”
Del Oro (13-2) took a 10-7 lead on a Bobby Heatherington three-yard touchdown pass to Tanner Huber early in the second quarter, and Helix quickly responded. On the ensuing drive, the Highlanders jumped back in front on a Lewis 73-yard pass to Gary Thompson in the middle of the field – one play after a holding penalty negated a long touchdown pass.
“It was a different play, but coach Starr knew they were open in the middle,” Thompson said. “They weren’t really keying on me and I am a key factor in this offense. They used me very well and we made plays.”
After a Del Oro punt, Helix extended its lead to 21-10 with a 66-yard scoring drive capped by a Michael Adkins three-yard touchdown run with 2:54 left in the second quarter. The Highlanders had more speed than the Golden Eagles could handle, and it started to show before halftime.
“We play fast and we pride ourselves on our speed and use it to our best ability,” Lewis said.
Helix struck again before halftime, moving 67 yards in three plays to make it 28-10 on a Lewis 32-yard screen pass to Kendal Keys with 1:11 to play in the half. Lewis threw for 201 passing yards in the second quarter, completing all six of his pass attempts as Helix raced out to a comfortable lead.
“There were a lot of people watching and we got what we wanted – all eyes were on us,” Lewis said. “The spotlight was on us tonight and we shined.”
Del Oro cut Helix’s lead to 11 on the opening drive of the second half, methodically marching down the field with a 13-play scoring drive that took almost half of the third quarter. The Highlanders took up the rest of the quarter on the ensuing 13-play drive, answering the Golden Eagles with a Lewis seven-yard pass to Keys as time expired in the third quarter to make it 35-17.
“We had to make sure we kept driving the ball, and holding and securing the ball when we got tackled,” Hancock said.
Behind a consistent rushing attack and steady defense, Helix maintained that 18-point advantage throughout the fourth quarter. In the final minute of the game, Del Oro blocked a punt that Golden Eagles defensive back Alex Bertrando returned six yards for a touchdown – but that score didn’t threaten the outcome of Helix’s 35-24 victory.
“It means the world to us seniors. We’ve been heartbroken the past couple years and it feels great to just win in our last football game,” Lewis said. “That was our goal the whole season – winning our last football game – and we accomplished that goal.”
Lewis finished 11-of-16 with 254 passing yards and three touchdowns, and completed passes to five different receivers in the victory. On the ground Hancock led the Highlanders with 110 rushing yards on 26 carries – 21 of which came after halftime.
“There’s no better way to finish off the season,” Hancock said. “We’re state champions now and it’s a beautiful night.”
Defensively, Helix held Sac-Joaquin Division III champion Del Oro to 102 yards rushing – the Golden Eagles’ lowest rushing total of the season. The Highlanders defense that featured four first team All-CIF selections did not disappoint with a state title on the line.
“They had the best offense that we faced all year and they were very aggressive,” said Helix linebacker Kacy Smith. “We didn’t care if we were faster, we just needed to be in their gaps. We just had to get the gaps straight and we were good to go.”
After ending Oceanside’s streak of consecutive section titles, Helix captured a state title in its first State Bowl appearance. For the last five seasons, the San Diego Section has produced a football state champion.
“It’s a great honor. We have been working so hard for this moment and it has finally paid off,” Smith said.
In a program full of tradition, a state title can now be added to the trophy case at Helix. The 2011 Highlanders are the new standard by which the program is measured.
“We know the Helix tradition, and today we set our own,” Thompson said.
More like this:
- Game of the Week: No. 1 Helix at No. 8 Eastlake — Aug. 31, 2012
- Division II State Bowl Preview — Dec. 13, 2011
- Division II Finals: Helix vs. Oceanside — Dec. 5, 2011
- #1 Helix Dominates #10 Steele Canyon to Take Grossmont Hills Title — Nov. 11, 2011
- Game of the Week: #6 Mount Miguel at #1 Helix — Oct. 8, 2011