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Pirates start fast, hold off Titans in choppy contest

POWAY – It wasn’t always pretty for top-ranked Oceanside on Friday night, but the Pirates did enough to defeat Poway. Oceanside built an early lead and leaned on its defense in the second half to hold off the third-ranked Titans for a 23-13 road victory.

“We just had to come in and show that we’re still a tough team and that we can play with anybody,” said Oceanside senior running back/safety Ryshaud Keegan. “Coming into a hostile environment against a big-time team, we showed how dominant we can be.”

Oceanside (3-1) took the opening kickoff and marched methodically down the field for a touchdown. The Pirates took a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game on an audibled screen pass from senior quarterback Tofi Paopao to junior receiver Mikah Holder that went for a 31-yard score.

“We had another screen called and I saw the middle linebacker was going to blitz,” Paopao said. “I was going through my reads in my head and decided that play wasn’t going to work, and I just changed it at the line.”

Early in the second quarter, Oceanside extended its lead to 10 with a 41-yard field goal by senior Fernando Elizarraraz. The Pirates capitalized on second-quarter mistakes by Poway (2-2) to jump further in front by halftime.

“We had to come out fast and that’s what we did,” Paopao said. “That was one of our main points this week.”

Poway turned the ball over on three straight drives in the second quarter, and Oceanside turned each of the giveaways into points. Paopao connected with junior receiver Thai Cottrell on a short pass that went for a 43-yard touchdown, and Elizarraraz made two field goals – the second make a 39-yard attempt that gave the Pirates a 23-0 lead headed into halftime.

“We were explosive and outstanding in the first half,” said Oceanside head coach John Carroll.

After a dominant first half, Oceanside appeared on its way to a decisive win over Poway. But the Pirates came out flat in the second half, and the Titans climbed back into the game as a result.

“We were thrilled about the first half, but we don’t really know what happened in the second half,” Paopao said. “We just shut it down and got too bigheaded – we got into slow motion and we can’t do that.”

After Oceanside fumbled on the second drive of the third quarter, Poway got on the board when junior back Lance Mudd broke a 59-yard run for a touchdown that made it 23-7. In the final minute of the quarter, Poway made it a 10-point game on a three-yard run by senior running back Nehemiah Gross – a touchdown that came two plays after a senior Jonathan Petersen blocked a punt to give the Titans favorable field position.

“Poway is an outstanding football team, and credit to them for battling back into the ball game in the second half,” Carroll said. “We let down a little bit early in the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Oceanside’s defense tightened up to stifle Poway’s comeback attempt. The Titans had the ball for the first six minutes of the quarter, but couldn’t get closer than the Pirates’ 35-yard line as the methodical drive ended with an incompletion on fourth down.

“We knew we had to step up – we got really emotional and got hyped and went back to playing regular Pirate ‘D,’” Keegan said. “We picked it back up when the game got close at the end, and we stopped them.”

After Oceanside punted on the ensuing drive, Keegan intercepted Poway quarterback Max Washam seal the victory for the Pirates with 3:02 remaining. Keegan’s second interception of the game involved some cheating before the snap – sliding towards Poway senior receiver Derek Babiash instead of staying in the middle of the field.

“I’m supposed to play in the middle but all night he was looking at [Babiash] on the outside, so I knew he was going there at the end of the game,” Keegan said. “I just shadowed over to that side, he threw it, and I went up and got it.”

In the Pirates’ victory Paopao was 18-of-31 for 252 yards, and finished with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Like his Oceanside teammates, the senior quarterback did most of his damage in the first half.

“It was a big win and we’re just glad we came out with the victory,” Paopao said.

Poway’s defense pitched a shutout in the second half to key the Titans’ rally. Though Poway scored the last 13 points of the game, its comeback attempt ultimately fell short when they needed to pass late in the game.

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