East County Sports

Thomas, Eagles leave no doubt in opener

2020-21 EAST COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL

No. 14 GRANITE HILLS 56, VALHALLA 7

 

EL CAJON – WIthout a doubt, Joaquin Thomas Jr. has to be thrilled following his first game as a Granite Hills Eagle.

Thomas Jr., a sophomore transfer from Helix, scored four touchdowns on Saturday evening, including scoring runs of 64 and 60 yards as the visiting Eagles rocked long-standing rival Valhalla, 56-7, in the return to football for the clubs following the calming of the pandemic.

Granite Hills led 42-7 at halftime. The second half was played with a running clock.

“At the start of the game, I was thinking, wow, we are really playing a high school game right now,” Thomas Jr. said. “It almost didn’t feel true in the beginning.”

Thomas Jr. carried five times on the Eagles’ opening series, picking up 35 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run to cap the long-awaited march for a Granite Hills squad that had picked up plenty of public momentum in the run-up to the resumption of play.

Adding Thomas Jr. to a club that features the Grossmont Conference’s top returning passer had pollsters moving the Eagles up the charts without a game having been played in 15 months.

Seeing Granite in motion on Saturday night and it was more apparent why.

Senior quarterback Justus McComb was a clean 9-of-12 for 120 yards and two scores, while his apparent backup, Dominico Tomasello, was spot-on with a 3-for-3 effort for 72 yards, including a 33-yard score to junior Logan Heesch in the third quarter. It wasn’t necessarily mop-up duty getting a chance against the Norsemen for the sophomore, who played every third series until relieving the starter.

“Nico can sling it,” Thomas Jr. said.

McComb, who also rushed for a 10-yard touchdown, found his long-time friend on a 9-yard TD that put the Eagles ahead, 35-7.

“Justus and I have had a connection ever since we were five years old,” Thomas Jr. said. “Now this season we’ve teamed up and the chemistry is going to be there.

“I said to him, ‘give me a sideline route,’ and he said, ‘I got you,’ and we just made it happen.”

The score was Thomas Jr.’s third of the first half.

Late in the first half, senior Matt Keeley forced a fumble that resulted in another short field and a score when McComb floated a pass that only senior Angel Almazon could get against the defender in the back left corner of the end zone for a 23-yard score with just 2.4 seconds left in the first half.

Keeley had four receptions for 69 yards but was probably kicking himself for letting a sure interception slip through his usually sure-handed mitts, which resulted in a deflection for a long breakaway touchdown for Valhalla senior Marsalis Childs, which was the play of the game despite the resolute Granite Hills performance.

At the time, the score answered a quick 21-0 Eagle lead by early in the second quarter, giving the Norsemen its only glimmer of comeback hopes.

After the Eagles’ first score, Valhalla couldn’t secure a bounding ball that ended up being recovered by Granite Hills and turned into a 14-0 lead when McComb threw a 9-yard score to Wyatt Henderson.

Thomas’s first long run – the 64-yarder – looked like relatively smooth sailing thanks to the massive hole opened by seniors Anthony Figueroa and Blake Riley, and junior Tanner Vilguth.

His second jaunt, coming on the first play of the fourth quarter, capped the scoring, as he eluded a defender after the huge surge by the line and ran past a few pileups to escape to the left sideline.

“I have faith in our linemen,” Thomas Jr. said.

Valhalla’s quarterbacks – Luke Pillsbury and Tommy Logan – combined to go 12-for-19 for 153 yards. It was Logan who lofted the surprise touchdown pass to Childs, while Pillsbury added 53 yards on the ground.

Norsemen senior Miles Tomlinson had four catches for 39 yards.

“We knew Miles was going to be their guy but our defense was locking down everywhere,” Thomas Jr. said. “We have some studs on defense. We have faith in this defense.”

With the return to play, football players have adjusted their goals as a team. Younger players are finding realistic opportunities in the non-championship schedule this spring. The Eagles were certainly a top twenty team in the county heading into this season back in August but now find themselves on the verge of most top tens.

“We’re going to show why we should be considered to be ranked high,” Thomas Jr. said. “As a team, we’re just trying to make the most of the opportunity. We’re going to let them know that Granite Hills will be ready to soar to the top.”

Granite Hills will host El Capitan (0-1) in Week 2 of the six-game schedule. The Vaqueros lost to another Grossmont Hills League foe, Steele Canyon, 35-12, in the opener.

“El Capitan relies on Yokley brothers,” Thomas Jr. said. “They are good football players. We saw that game against Steele Canyon on Friday night and once (Steele) figured out what was going on and changed up the defense a bit, they were able to contain the rest of their team.”

The 56 points scored by the Eagles were the most ever scored by either of the teams in the all-time series, which is led by Granite Hills, 30-16, although the Norse have actually had the better of Granite this century, 13-7. The Eagles have outscored the Norsemen, 142-12 over the last three seasons.

Granite Hills owned their neighborhood rival, 23-3, before the turn of the century, which led to the game being such a focus for the Orange Nation for many years, even before 2000.

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