Don Bauder 4:37 p.m., Dec. 27
Highlanders handle Titans to make season-opening statement
CHULA VISTA – In its season opener at Eastlake on Friday night, top-ranked Helix made a solid first impression. The defending state champion Highlanders stifled the eighth-ranked Titans on their home turf and pulled away in the second half for a decisive 28-6 win.
“It makes a huge statement – we proved our No. 1 ranking,” said Helix senior running back Michael Adkins. “We came out here, fought hard and we’re proud to get a victory tonight.”
Eastlake (0-1) opened the scoring late in the first quarter on a two-yard Jalen Mondane touchdown run, capitalizing after Helix mishandled a punt snap. The Titans led 6-0 after an opening quarter that was dominated by defense.
“We had people step up in this game and in the first half we got to see how people fought through adversity,” said Helix senior lineman Amu Milo.
In the second quarter, a big play helped Helix (1-0) break through its early offensive struggles. Junior quarterback Josh Harris connected with senior receiver Kendal Keys over the middle and Keys ran through the Eastlake secondary for a 47-yard touchdown pass that put the Highlanders ahead by one with 7:30 left in the half.
“It woke us up. Kendal is a big time playmaker and we expect him to make plays like that,” Adkins said. “When he made that play, it really got us motivated to go out there and keep pushing.”
Following an Eastlake punt on the next possession, Helix drove 45 yards for a touchdown to extend its lead. Adkins capped the drive with a two-yard score that put the Highlanders up 14-6 in the final minutes of the first half.
“The idea coming into the game was to be run-heavy,” Adkins said. “We came out in the second half and pounded it in so we could get the score up and close out the game.”
On the first possession of the third quarter Helix moved the ball on the ground, and Adkins finished the drive with a six-yard touchdown run that made it a 21-6 game four minutes into the half. Helix’s defense maintained that lead into the fourth quarter by forcing turnovers on three of Eastlake’s next four drives, the last of which was an interception by senior defensive back Marquise Powell midway through the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t making the right [defensive] play calls in the first half, but everybody got together and everybody stepped it up,” Milo said. “I give props to my defensive backs – they played a great game tonight.”
Eastlake’s quick set offense that gave Helix fits when the two teams met to open the season last year posed no such problems for the Highlanders on Friday night. Helix contained Titans senior running back Aaron Baltazar and stuffed the Titans’ Wing-T attack by controlling the line of scrimmage on nearly every play.
“We watched a lot of film from last year and we made a lot of adjustments,” said Helix senior linebacker Rocky Fuga. “During the game everybody kept communicating and we kept our hype up.”
In the closing minutes, Adkins punctuated the Helix victory with a 16-yard touchdown run – his third of the game. With the win the Highlanders earned payback against Eastlake, the only team to beat Helix last season.
“We wanted to come out and show everybody that we’re not going to play this year – we’re just going to take everything seriously,” Fuga said. “We’re going to come back tomorrow and work even harder.”
Helix might not have the talent it had on last year’s state championship team and is currently a young, unpolished product. But in its convincing win over Eastlake on Friday night, the Highlanders showed that they have the potential to be a title contender this season.
“We’ll be pretty good,” Adkins said. “The first couple of games it might be a little shaky, but as the season goes along we’ll come together as a team and show people what we’re all about.”