East County Sports

Eagles rally, take epic from Cougars



By Jim Lindgren 


SPRING VALLEY – Kellan Cobbs is not your fire-hot intensity-type coach who delivers loud, inspirational speeches Knute Rockne and the boys would be proud of. It’s simply not his nature.

But when the going gets tough – as it was Thursday night for Granite Hills – Cobbs tells it as he sees it.

In the east end zone, close to an empty sideline, one could hear Cobbs clearly imploring his troops to “wake up!”

Down by 12 at the half, the No. 7-ranked Eagles quickly rallied for two touchdowns to tie the game then scored twice more in the fourth quarter to pull off a 40-33 entertaining victory over Steele Canyon.

“We came out really slow,” senior quarterback Justus McComb said. “Didn’t really have a great week of practice, and we weren’t really into it in the first half.”

Cobbs also made a slight offensive adjustment, inserting senior Ryan Dobbs as a blocking back – a role he had never acted before Thursday’s game.

“He really added a spark to our run game in the second half,” Cobbs said.

That’s where McComb comes in. A 6-foot, 195-pound three-year starter, McComb had 22 rushing yards in the first half. He finished with 175 on 20 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion that turned a 1-point deficit into a 40-33 lead with 5:51 left to play.

Later, he rushed for 8, 34 and 17 yards before taking a knee on the Eagles’ final play that sealed a 4-0 start in this shortened 6-game spring season. A very young Steele Canyon (1-3) lost its third in a row.

Oh, McComb also completed his first seven passes of the second half and finished 19-of-30 for 250 yards and four touchdowns – two each to senior Matt Keeley and freshman Joshua Zander.

That gave him 425 total yards and a hand in the last five touchdowns – the first score coming on a 2-yard run by sophomore Joaquin Thomas.

McComb’s game-winning score came one play after 79-yard interception return by senior Titus Darling to the 1-yard line.

“I just saw him cut out and try to cut in,” Darling said. “I jumped the pass and took off.”

Said Steele Canyon coach Scott Longerbone, “Young team, young mistakes.

“It’s always a battle with (Granite Hills). It doesn’t matter what year. Every year.”

Last year, Granite Hills took a 4-1 mark into the Steele game and lost 28-13. In 2018, the Eagles prevailed 30-27 en route to a 10-2 season. The year before that, Granite won 43-41 in the regular season, then lost to Steele 28-27 in the playoffs, and the Cougars went on to win their first San Diego Section title and then the state championship two weeks later.

“Always a nail-biter; always a great game against Steele,” Cobbs said. “We know them very well, and they know us very well.”

Steele Canyon looked brilliant in the first quarter. The Cougars opened with an 11-play, 67-yard drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass from Elia Kirisimasi to Manny Lovering 5 minutes into the game.

Three plays later, the Cougars’ Keanu Pettiford recovered a fumble at the 19-yard line and soon had a 13-0 lead when Kirisimasi bulled in from 1 yard.

Early in the second quarter, freshman Jordan Glaze put a jarring hit on the Cougars’ Major Givens, and Joseph Holt recovered the fumble at the 42-yard line for Granite. Five plays later, Thomas scored from 2 yards to make it 13-7.

Then it was the Cougars’ turn for a bone-jarring hit as Adrien Chargualaf put a knock on Thomas and recovered the ensuing fumble at the 13-yard line. Givens capped the short drive with a 1-yard TD to make it 19-7 Steele with 2:35 before intermission.

The Eagles responded, however, with an efficient, 7-play, 75-yard drive that ended with McComb firing a strike to Keeley in the front, left side of the end zone to make it 19-14 with 52 seconds left.

Givens then took the ensuing kickoff 92 yards down the right sideline for a score and a 26-14 cushion at the half.

Near the end of the half, a Steele Canyon player was flagged for a target penalty on the Eagles’ star receiver, senior Angel Almazan, who appeared to sustain the hit but was taken out of the game as a precaution for a possible concussion. Almazan had three catches for 34 yards.

“It was a weird week of practice,” Cobbs said. “We have a lot of guys playing other sports and had various games going on all week. And we’re playing on a Thursday. We weren’t ready to go. Steele Canyon was ready. You could tell their young guys were geared up to play.

“Our guys really flipped the switch in the second half and really played well. I’m very pleased with that turnaround.”

Granite Hills received the second-half kickoff and promptly reeled off a 7-play, 80-yard drive to cut the margin to 26-20 after McComb found Zander in the end zone on a 5-yard TD toss. Key to the drive was a 45-yard scamper by McComb.

The Eagles then squibbed an onside kick that was recovered by Dane Gilbert at the 42-yard line. McComb then passed for 2 yards, ran for 10, ran for 18, ran for 3, passed for 4 and then passed for 7 more to Keeley for a TD and a 26-26 tie after the Eagles’ second PAT attempt was blocked by Chargualaf.

Steele wasn’t going to roll over, however. Kirisimasi hit Joshua Tendvahl for a 39-yard gain before Givens scored his third touchdown on a 6-yard sweep to give the Cougars a 33-26 lead.

Then McComb went back to work. He lofted a perfect pass to tight end Zach Burton for a 39-yard gain that led to him hitting Zander for a 19-yard TD in the middle of the end zone that made it 33-32 after the PAT sailed wide right.

A few minutes later, Darling’s interception and McComb’s final TD put the finishing touches on the scoreboard.

“The O-line really stepped it up and had a great second half,” McComb said. “Steele Canyon is a great team. Really, really well-coached and talented. We figured it out in the second half. Great job by our coaches.

“Freshman Josh Zander really stepped it up for us today. I knew that kid was going to be great the first time I saw him.”

After Almazan went down, Zander said he felt a need to pick up the slack, finishing with four catches for 32 yards and two TDs.

“I played with a greater purpose after (Almazan) went out,” Zander said. “I did it for Angel.”

For Steele Canyon, Givens rushed 27 times for 102 yards and two TDs, plus his 92-yard return TD. Kirisimasi was 7-of-12 passing for 126 yards and a TD. The INT really wasn’t his fault. He also rushed for 37 yards on 10 carries.

Tendvahl caught three passes for 90 yards for the Cougars. Boyer nabbed five balls for 89 yards for the Eagles.

Steele Canyon is playing more than a dozen freshman and sophomores and has only two senior starters on defense, normally a force that puts the Cougars among the county’s elite programs.
“With a young team, they were a little too relaxed at halftime,” Longerbone said. “A two-TD lead is a scary lead against (Granite). I don’t have a crystal ball. I’ve just been coaching a long time and know what can happen against a good team. It happened.”

Granite Hills will put its 4-0 mark up against Helix next Friday night at Valley Stadium. Steele Canyon plays host to Grossmont before tackling Helix again in the season finale.


Granite Hills 0 14 12 14 – 40  

Steele Canyon 13 13 7 0 – 33  

SC – Manny Lovering 3 pass from Elia Kirisimasi (David Martinez kick)

SC – Elia Kirisimasi 1 run (kick failed)

GH – Joaquin Thomas 2 run (Gavin Armstrong kick)

SC – Major Givens 1 run (pass failed)

GH – Matt Keeley  pass from Justus McComb (Gavin Armstrong kick)

SC – Major Givens 92 kickoff return (David Martinez kick)

GH – Joshua Zander 5 pass from Justus McComb (kick blocked)

GH – Matt Keeley 7 pass from Justus McComb (kick blocked)

SC – Major Givens 6 run (David Martinez kick)

GH – Joshua Zander 19 pass from Justus McComb (kick failed)

GH – Justus McComb 1 run (Justus McComb run)

RUSHING – Granite Hills: Justus McComb 20-175-1, Joaquin Thomas 4-29-1, Chandler Boyer 1-14-0, Joshua Zander 1-0-0. Steele Canyon: Major Givens 27-102-2, Elia Kirisimasi 10-37-1, Jacob Meza 1-0-0.


PASSING – Granite Hills: Justus McComb 19-30-250-0 (4 TDs). Steele Canyon: Elia Kirisimasi 7-12-126-1 (1 TD).

RECEIVING – Granite Hills: Chandler Boyer 5-89-0, Joshua Zander 4-32-2, Angel Almazan 3-34-0, Matt Keeley 3-18-2, Wyatt Henderson 2-29-0, Zach Burton 1-39-0, Joaquin Thomas 1-6. Steele Canyon: Joshua Tendvahl 3-90-0, Major Givens 3-33-0, Manny Lovering 1-3-1.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS – Granite Hills: Jordan Glaze, forced fumble; Joshua Holt, fumble recovery; Dane Gilbert, fumble recovery; Titus Darling, interception. Steele Canyon: Keanu Pettiford, fumble recovery; Cannon Kanzius, sack; Adrien Chargualaf, forced fumble, fumble recovery; Major Givens, 92-yard kickoff return TD.


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