Granite Hills High School football coach Kellan Cobbs readily admits his team has been through its “highs and lows” so far this season.
The Eagles definitely caught an up draft last Friday by defeating the Otay Ranch Mustangs, 31-14, at Hilltop High School. The non-league victory snapped a two-game losing streak – the team’s “low” through its opening five games.
“There’s a lot of football left in the season,” said Cobbs, whose team entered the midpoint of the 2021 fall season with a 3-2 record following a dominating 2-0 start.
There’s also a lot of traveling left as Granite Hills travels to Tucson, Ariz., this Friday for a non-league game against Walden Grove (2-1) of Sahuarita.
The Eagles’ next four games, in fact, are on the road. Granite Hills is scheduled to play at La Canada St. Francis on Oct. 8 following a bye week, then kicks off Grossmont Hills League play Oct. 15 and remains on the road for an Oct. 22 league contest at Steele Canyon before hosting Helix Charter in its final regular season outing on Oct. 28.
The win over Otay Ranch moved the Eagles up to No. 13 in the weekly section rankings, 10th among Division I teams.
Helix remains the top-ranked East County team at No. 7 overall.
Granite Hills benefitted from the much-improved play of junior quarterback Lance Rodgers in the win over the Mustangs. Rodgers was thrust into the primary role following an injury to starter Nico Tomasello in the opening series of what would turn out to be a 31-0 loss to 10th-ranked Eastlake two weeks ago.
The Eagles were the dominant team for three quarters last Friday but needed a 94-yard interception return by junior Easton Peterson with two minutes to play to stave off a late Otay Ranch rally.
Peterson finished the game with two interceptions.
But the story of the game was the poise displayed by Rodgers in guiding the offense down field.
“He had a whole week of practice and that helped boost his confidence level,” Cobbs said. “Our receivers also went up to grab some 50-50 balls and that helped his confidence even more.”
With Tomasello, a senior, still on the sideline, Rodgers passed for 161 yards with one touchdown.
The Eagles built a 28-0 lead to round up the Mustangs. It took just 12 seconds to get on the scoreboard when senior linebacker Brandon Kleist fell on a loose ball in the end zone after an errant snap sailed over the head of Otay Ranch junior signal-caller Brian Rudden.
“It was huge,” Cobbs said of the defensive score. “That got our energy sparked. We were able to feed off that the first half.”
Junior Zak Darling broke through the line of scrimmage to score on a 33-yard run with 2:26 to play in the first quarter to double the score to 14-0 following another successful point-after-touchdown conversion by junior Brett Carpenter.
Granite Hills made it 21-0 with 5:43 remaining in the second quarter when senior Jayquale Hodges scored on a five-run run.
The Eagles jumped ahead 28- 0 when Rodgers connected with junior Corey Thompson-Miller on a 10-yard scoring pass midway through the third quarter.
Otay Ranch got its fans roaring with a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives, one of which was set up by a Granite Hills turnover.
Rudden completed a 35-yard touchdown pass to senior Jake Baca to avert a shutout with 9:29 left in the game to make the score 28-7.
The Mustangs halved the deficit when Rudden, evading two tackles in the backfield, changed direction and rushed 22 yards down the home sideline into the endzone.
At this point, 4:30 remained in the game. It appeared Otay Ranch might draw even closer after fielding the ball on the Eagle 33-yard line on a punt from the end zone.
But Granite Hills senior Zach Burton sacked Rudden for an eight-yard loss and an ensuing penalty brought up fourth-and-23 for the Mustangs with 2:14 left on the clock.
Enter Peterson with the biggest play of the fourth quarter when he intercepted Rudden’s pass at the six-yard line and returned the ball the length of the field, racing down the Eagles sideline to cheers, to put the game away.
“I was getting tired (during the runback),” Peterson confessed to a teammate on the sideline.