East County Sports

Eagles top Titans in battle of champions

Granite Hills during a time out on Friday. / Dave Dickens




EastCountySports.com staff report


EL CAJON – Granite Hills junior Zak Darling rushed for a 16-yard touchdown with 2:16 left in the game on Friday night as the Eagles defeated the Poway Titans, 14-10, in a hard-fought defensive tilt between comparable league champions from the spring.

The Eagles won the last two traditional season openers over the Titans in 2018 and ’19, also by exactly four points.

Poway was coming off a 5-0 spring campaign, which included the Palomar League championship.

Meanwhile, the Eagles were able to capture an elusive Grossmont Hills League championship.

A sure defensive battle early, Granite Hills started to turn the tide in the second quarter on a sack by senior Brandon Kleist back at the Poway 10.

Soon after, junior Corey Thompson-Miller intercepted a pass that deflected off in the intended receiver, returning it for a yardage gain to set up the Eagles for a scoring opportunity.

From there, junior Nico Tomasello rolled left and tossed a 19-yard TD pass to sophomore Derek Edmund for the first score, as Edmund toed the left sideline while making the grab with his open hands while falling across the side boundary.

Edmund is already a star and sure college prospect on the basketball court for the Eagles but the touchdown grab appeared like that of a skilled wide receiver.

With 8:18 left in the third quarter, Poway scored on a 1-yard run by Ryan Mancuso after a double-penalty following a ball-jarring by a defender, which resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty with an unsportsmanlike conduct foul that put the ball at the Eagle 9. It took four plays to get finally get the ball over the goal.

Granite Hills senior Zach Burton had a sack early in the drive just on the other side of the Poway 50.

A couple of drives later, following a Granite Hills turnover, Poway took the lead on a 37-yard field goal by James Wagenseller with 1:28 left in the third quarter.

The Eagles started their decisive drive with 4:30 left in the game at their own 32.

Sophomore Josh Zander fought off a tackler to gain a first down on the first play of the drive, then drew a roughness penalty when he was tackled out of bounds.

Thompson-Miller made a subtle huge play on third down when he picked up a low snap on a possible read run with his quarterback, and was able to rush the ball past the down marker for the first.

Darling’s winning run was aided by the blocking of sophomore Alejandro Tejeda, junior Royce Harper, and senior Chandler Boyer.

“I tell you what this might be the biggest and fastest most mean dudes on the O-line and defensive line we have had in a while, it definitely must be reassuring for Nico at quarterback. That was a great win. Great calls by the coaches but that’s only one game of the season so we move on hungrier.”

The Titans were able to pick up a first down and nearly another on the game’s final series but the Eagles’ Joaquin Thomas Jr., brought down an attempted long pass downfield to clinch the game, which was followed by a couple of kneel downs.

“As soon as I saw the quaterback roll out to my side I knew I had a chance of getting the pick,” Thomas Jr. said. “I have the mentality of ‘if it’s in the air it’s mine.” I knew before he threw it, that if he did, I was gonna make sure to come down with it. It was just a great play at the right time. Poway loves to run boot passes so the main thing we went over in practice was discipline. To stay on your receiver until the ball is thrown.”

Darling had a 26-yard run on the game’s first series as the Eagles took a drive down to the Poway 5, however, the Titans’ defense forced a turnover on downs.

Granite Hills subsequently took over with good field possession again on its second drive and took the ball inside the 5, but a penalty and a missed field goal kept the Eagles off the board.

The Eagles made a terrific special teams play in the second quarter when they executed a punt, which included a one-hop snap, in which they pinned the Titans at their own 1.

On defense, Granite limited the Titans to just 86 yards of total offense, including just 1.6 yards per rush.

“Our line is extremely tough on both sides of the ball this year,” Burton said. “We are a ground and pound team and the core of that is our offensive line. Our defense did amazing with communicating and making sure we keep our eye on the misdirection plays. Nico played extremely well and kept his composure the whole game even when down in the fourth quarter.”

Tomasello showed his toughness after being knocked from the game early in the fourth quarter when he was wrapped up awkwardly by the Titans. He missed one play before returning.

“Nico made great reads and some great throws,” Granite Hills head coach Kellan Cobbs said. “We had a lot of dropped balls and younger receivers not running their correct routes. It will all be addressed and tightened up.

“I was a little worried earlier in the week playing Poway without (running back Jaquayle) Hodges and (safety Jordan) Glaze, but I knew we still had enough talent to win. Our offense was really just eating clock in the first half, but look we made plays when we needed to and that is all that matters. In the fourth, because Poway goes both ways, they were out of gas as we wore them down.”




Poway (0-1)...         0  0  10  0 -- 10
Granite Hills (1-0)... 7  0   0  7 -- 14

GH -- Edmond 19 pass from Tomasello (Carpenter kick)
P -- Mancuso 1 run (Wagenseller kick)
P -- FG Wagenseller 37
GH -- Darling 16 run (Carpenter kick), 2:00 left


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