Highlanders earn top-billing, title
- Updated: December 3, 2017
2017 EAST COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
SAN DIEGO CIF OPEN DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP
HELIX 26, MISSION HILLS 19
By Jim Lindgren
Special to EastCountySports.com
CHULA VISTA – Without a shadow of any doubt, the two best teams in the San Diego Section squared off Saturday night in the Open Division championship game at Southwestern College.
And what a show they staged for a huge boisterous crowd of nearly 10,000.
Every score was a lead change. Most every play seemed to have impact on the outcome. There were zero turnovers and dripping drama, big hits by behemoth studs and plenty of speed to burn.
Helix ran wild. Mission Hills went aerial.
This classic had everything.
In the end, one of the game’s most diminutive players carried the Highlanders to a thrilling 26-19 victory, and his nickname is “Fatto”.
Once again, 5-foot-8, 175-pound sophomore ELELYON NOA put his stamp on another Helix win, this one being the Scotties’ second Open title in the past three years after losing last year to eventual state champ Cathedral Catholic.
“Fatto” rushed 29 times for a game-high 164 yards and three touchdowns. Seven carries and 37 yards came in the final four minutes as Helix secured three first downs to run out the clock against one of the two best defensive teams in the county – Helix being the other.
“Best running back in San Diego,” Helix quarterback CARSON BAKER said. “He’s always falling forward, always moving the pile. I don’t know how he does it, but he always does. He’s amazing.”
For good measure, Noa also turned in a special teams’ gem that led to his own game-winning touchdown with 9:17 left to play.
Mission Hills kicked a field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter to tie the game 19-19. On the ensuing kickoff, the Grizzlies booted the ball out of bounds, giving the Scotties the choice of a re-kick or possession at their 35-yard line. They chose re-kick.
On a low line-driver, Noa, who was not one of the deep return guys, snagged the ball cleanly above his head and returned it 17 yards to the 50-yard line.
On the next play, Baker hit MICHAEL SHAWCROFT on a well-designed and well-timed play-action pass over the middle for a 35-yard gain.
Four Fatto runs later, the Scotties had the lead again and held it for their ninth section title in school history. (They also have 12 runner-up finishes.)
“Fatto, what more can I say?” Helix coach ROBBIE OWENS said. “He’s just like his brother Zeke last year. He’s the heart and soul of what we do. The guys always rally around him.
“He’s such a special player. We’re very happy to have him in our program.”
Helix (12-1) came in as the No. 2-seeded team because of a 23-6 loss to Lancaster Paraclete in Week 2. The Scotties were ranked No. 13 in the state but are sure to move up. They are now headed to the state playoffs, which they won in 2011.
Top-seeded Mission Hills (12-1) was ranked No. 10 in the state, and the Grizzlies will likely make the state playoffs as well.
“It’s such a great group,” Owens said. “I just love coaching these guys. I’ve been telling them for weeks, I don’t want our season to end.”
The most star-studded talent-laden team in the section is not done, not after its wild celebration following an epic victory.
“Best feeling the world,” Baker said. “To grind with your brothers all season long and come out on top, it’s awesome.”
ISAIAH WOODEN had the Highlanders’ other touchdown, somehow tracking an over-the-shoulder catch for 31 yards in the back left corner of the end zone to put Helix up 12-10 with 30 seconds to play in the first half.
“I love it,” Wooden said. “All the hard work paid off. We did what we were supposed to do. We came here to win. We’re a family.”
Said Noa, “God gave us the opportunity, and we took advantage of it. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be a part of this team.”
Noa averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Baker completed 8-of-12 passes for 110 yards, including a perfect lob toss to Wooden for his 31-yard score.
Mission Hills’ Jack Tuttle was 23 of 43 passing for 295 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown strike to Chris Olave, who finished with 12 catches for 150 yards.
With 4:42 left in the game and Mission Hills facing a fourth-and-9 from the 12-yard line, Tuttle’s last pass fell incomplete as JAYDEN TAUANUU provided super tight coverage on Olave in the end zone.
“That Tuttle and Olave are dynamic players,” Owens said. “We were very fortunate we got the stop there at the end. But even if they had scored, we felt really confident we could score again.”
Neither team moved the ball much in the first quarter. The first first down of the game didn’t come until 3:16 remained in the first quarter, and there was no scoring in the first 13:27.
Mission Hills went up first with a 19-yard field goal by Ezekeal Mata.
Helix answered with an eight-play, 69-yard drive capped by Noa’s first TD from 3 yards out at 6:52.
The Grizzlies countered with a 13-play, 73-yard drive and re-took the lead, 10-6, on a 2-yard plunge by Sam Dixon.
Helix finished off the first-half scoring on its next possession with a nine-play, 62-yard drive – thanks to Wooden’s highlight circus catch.
Mission Hills took its first possession of the second half 81 yards in eight plays and scored on Tuttle’s bullet to Olave from 7 yards out to make it 16-12 Grizzlies after Tauanuu blocked the PAT kick.
Helix answered again with a 14-play, 66-yard scoring drive as Noa bulled in from 1 yard on fourth down to give the Scotties a 19-16 edge.
Mission Hills tied the game 19-19 on a 26-yard field goal by Mata, following a seven-play, 71-yard possession.
That’s when Fatto took over. His alert and timely kick return led to the final score.
So after starting the game with five consecutive three-and-out drives, the teams then exchanged scores on the next nine possessions.
As per usual, the Helix offensive line was dynamite. Those guys are WILLIAM PAYNE, ISAIAH MANN, LOPAKA ROJAS, ZEKE RODRIGUEZ, MATTHEW AVI’I and tight end Shawcroft with JAGGER GILES pitching in as well.
ISAAC TAYLOR-STUART led the defense with 10 tackles, followed by Tauanuu, Giles and RAYMOND SANCHEZ with seven apiece. TYREECE TARRANT-PATANE, Giles and Avi’i each had tackles for losses.
Tauanuu, Shawcroft, Sanchez and Avi’i were credited with passes defended.
The Scotties’ win also capped a perfect weekend for East County teams.
Helix, Steele Canyon and Monte Vista all beat undefeated teams in their championship games, leaving El Centro Southwest as the only unbeaten team in the section this season.
“This was a tremendously exciting game,” Owens said. “This was the game everyone wanted to see.
“Both teams played a very clean game. You’ve got to give credit to (Mission Hills coach) Chris Hauser. He and his staff did a great job getting ready for this game as did ours.
“It was a great matchup of two great teams.”