Eagles scale the ‘mountain,’ top Highlanders for 5-0 record

Photo by Andy Bartotto Granite Hills senior quarterback Justus McComb totaled 328 yards in offense.

The Granite Hills High School football team proved last Friday what the pollsters had been saying all year: The Eagles were the top team in East County this season.

Granite Hills erased more than a decade of frustration against the Helix Highlanders with a timely 35-21 victory that gave the hosts a perfect slate (3-0) in Grossmont Hills League play, 5-0 overall.

The Eagles, ranked ninth among section teams, will play the second-ranked Carlsbad Lancers in a non-league game this Friday to close out the 2021 schedule. Kick-off is 7 p.m. at Valley Stadium.

Granite Hills head coach Kellan Cobbs, who graduated from the school in 2005, said discussions for a possible “bowl” game to end the season began about six weeks ago.

“All the coaches stay in contact with each other to set up games,” Cobbs said. “With COVID and no CIF playoffs, I wanted to schedule a playoff-type game, schedule a game against an Open Division-type team, and see how we do.”

Friday’s game should provide an appropriate kicker to the end of the shortened season.

Both teams are undefeated. The Eagles are sporting a well-deserved 5-0 record while the Lancers are 4-0 with a series of blockbuster victories.

Carlsbad has defeated Torrey Pines (42-0), San Marcos (49-9), Oceanside (30-12) and La Costa Canyon (49-0). The only team ranked higher in the section standings is No. 1 Cathedral Catholic, which has outscored its four opponents 172-14, and is ranked fifth in the state.

Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s contest, the future for the Eagles looks bright. Cobbs noted Granite Hills also won the junior varsity game against Helix.

“It was a big win for our program,” Cobbs said. “I’m not sure if we’ve ever swept them at both levels. That might be a first for this team.”

The varsity game was the showcase event, of course. The teams were tied 14-all at halftime before the Eagles out-scored the Highlanders 21-7 in the second half.

It marked the first win by Granite Hills against Helix since 2005, erasing 10 consecutive defeats.

“It was a great win for our kids,” Cobbs underscored. “They have been working hard all year. They’ve been pushing us coaches. They wanted to be at practice and were ready for the start of the season.”

Practice has obviously made them perfect, so far at least.

“Our defense has performed really well with the ability to stop the run and set up third-and-long situations,” Cobbs elaborated. “The defensive line has four returning starters who have done well. Our quarterback play has improved and has been doing well so far.”

Senior Justus McComb continued his breakout play behind center this season by passing for three touchdowns and rushing for two scores.

McComb completed 11 of 16 passing attempts for 232 yards with one interception. He rushed 19 times for 96 yards to post a 125.0 quarterback efficiency rating.

The Eagles out-gained the Highlanders 420-275 in total offensive yardage. McComb totaled 328 offensive yards in the game himself.

Senior Angel Almazon had three catches for 61 yards and one touchdown while sophomore Joaquin Thomas had three catches for 36 yards and one touchdown. Junior Zach Burton had one catch for a 26-yard touchdown.

Senior Matt Keeley, a three-year varsity standout, led the team defensively with 12 tackles and had one interception while catching one pass for 52 yards on offense.

Senior Andy Lowry had one sack and one fumble recovery while Burton caused one fumble.

Senior Justin Harward had nine tackles while senior Gavin Armstrong was five-for-five on extra-point conversions.

Pride obviously ranks high right now throughout the Granite Hills program, which suited up 110 players this season across all levels.

It’s an impressive number considering that several schools in the section had to cancel their seasons because they could not sustain enough numbers to compete safely on the gridiron.

“At first we didn’t know if we would even have a season, but we kept telling our coaches that we wanted to play together,” Keeley said. “Kids kept showing up (to practice). I think we built on that. We wanted to be together.”

Cobbs rates Keeley (6-2, 205) as an all-CIF worthy player.

“My first year we made it to the semifinals and lost to Lincoln but last season (2019) was not our best year — we lost in the first round to La Costa,” Keely noted. “We’ve grown a lot (since then).”

“We have come together,” McComb said. “We’ve been practicing for a whole year, not five or six months as we normally would in a season. We have great team chemistry. We know each other’s needs.”

McComb, who has now passed for 15 touchdowns and rushed for six more, said last Friday’s victory was likely the biggest in his two-year varsity career so far.

“It was a big win,” the senior signal caller said. “They have been on the top of the Grossmont mountain for 15 years. For us to beat them, and do it my senior year, was pretty amazing.”

It’s almost unheard of for the Scotties to have three losses in one season, especially against section opponents.

Junior Christian Washington continues to be a catalyst for Helix (2-3 overall, 2-1 in league play). He scored twice in last Friday’s loss — once on a two-yard run and another on a 23-yard reception. Senior Aleandro Van Holten (four carries, 19 yards) scored once on a seven-yard run.

Washington led Helix with 160 all-purpose yards — 122 yards on 21 carries, 24 receiving yards on two catches and 14 yards on kick returns. He also unleashed a 59-yard punt.

Freshman quarterback Ryland Jessee followed on the scoresheet with 141 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Senior Isaac Laing averaged 52.7 yards on three kickoffs and nailed three extra-point conversions.

Defensively, sophomore Joshua Carroll had one interception.

The Highlanders will conclude their season this Friday at eighth-ranked La Jolla (4-0) due to a late schedule change. The Scotties had originally been scheduled to host Steele Canyon but the Cougars will now end their season this Friday at Monte Vista (3-1).

Both those games start at 7 p.m.

Steele Canyon improved to 1-2 in league play following last Friday’s 34-17 win over the visiting Grossmont Foothillers.

The Cougars are 2-3 overall on the season while the Foothillers fell to 1-3 overall, 0-3 in league play.

Steele Canyon defeated Grossmont behind 252 rushing yards and two touchdowns by sophomore Major Givens while senior quarterback Elia Kirisimasi (86 passing yards) rushed for two more touchdowns. Givens capped a memorable game performance with 325 all-purpose yards.

Sophomore Adrien Chargualaf led the Cougars defensively with 10 tackles, one interception and one sack.

As a team, Steele Canyon racked up eight sacks, including three by sophomore Finley O’Gorman and solo stops by junior Temo Rangel, sophomore Kenneth Davis, seniors Joshua Stewart and Cannon Kanzius, and Chargualaf.

Rangel and sophomore Keanu Pettiford also recovered fumbles.

Junior David Martinez finished the game with seven kicking points.

Senior Justin Brown (22-of-41, 267 yards) passed for both Grossmont touchdowns — one each to senior Chris Chrzan (six catches, 97 yards) and junior Nathan Acevedo (four catches, 82 yards).

Defensive leaders included junior Brennan Sanders (18 tackles, 17 unassisted) and junior Ryan Odom (12 unassisted tackles). Junior Cristian Espino had one fumble recovery while junior Joseph Garcia had five kicking points.

The Foothillers managed just eight net rushing yards on 21 carries.

Grossmont will host Santa Fe Christian (5-0) in another non-league “bowl”-type game this Friday. Kick-off is 7 p.m.

Santana 21, Valhalla 13

The Sultans hiked their undefeated record to 4-0 on the season, 3-0 in Grossmont Valley League play, after winning a close one from the visiting Norsemen. Senior quarterback Drew Temple completed 12 of 26 passing attempts for 154 yards and two touchdowns — one each to senior Jared Foster (40 yards) and sophomore Shaun Martin (14 yards). Temple also scored on a one-yard run.

Valhalla had two leads in the game — 6-0 and 13-7 – but the hosts rallied each time. The Sultans managed to score the game’s final two touchdowns in the second half to remain unbeaten. However, the victory came with a price as several key players suffered injuries, including senior two-way standout Michael Richter (knee).

Senior Nick Brase stepped up to rush 10 times for 48 yards and catch two passes for 21 yards for Santana, which closes its season with a Mayor’s Cup date this Friday at crosstown rival West Hills (1-3). Kick-off is 7 p.m.

Senior quarterback Luke Pillsbury scored two rushing touchdowns for Valhalla, which remained winless on the season at 0-5 (0-3 in league). The Norsemen received 94 rushing yards on 17 carries from senior Hussain Bakir while senior Miles Tomlinson had four catches for 58 yards.

El Capitan 23, Monte Vista 21

Savigon Yokley and Xavier Peace both scored on 79-yard runs, while Peace later added a 36-yard score, to knock the visiting Monarchs from the ranks of the undefeated as the Vaqueros (2-1 in league, 2-3 overall) earned their second consecutive victory of the season.

West Hills 28, El Cajon Valley 12

In a matchup of two previously winless teams, the Wolf Pack claimed its first victory of the season in a Grossmont Valley League game against the host Braves (0-3 in league, 0-4 overall). Quarterback Braden Oberg rushed for 58 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 138 yards.

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