HUNTINGTON BEACH — Eric Lo learned plenty about the character of his Huntington Beach High football team in just a few hours.
A week ago, the Oilers let a big one slip away at Newport Harbor. The setback stung for a day or so, Lo said, but the team went back to work and turned their focus to Los Alamitos. Friday on their home turf at Cap Sheue Field, they responded big-time and put last week's disappointment behind them with a 28-7 victory over the Griffins, ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division.
The effort by the Oilers was stellar, and the win gave them the chance to play for an even bigger prize: the Sunset League championship.
Huntington can earn a share of the league title next week if it defeats Edison. The top-ranked Chargers remained alone in first place in league play by defeating Fountain Valley, 21-3, also Friday. The teams meet at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at Cap Sheue Field.
The Oilers (5-4 overall, 3-1 league) share second place with Newport Harbor which next week goes on the road to face Los Alamitos. The Griffins are 2-2 in league and 6-3 overall and in fourth place.
The league plot thickens.
"This is definitely a reflection of their character," Lo said of his squad. "We were down on Monday and talked about [the 20-17 loss to Newport]. Our backs were against the wall but the kids responded really well. We needed this, after that tough loss.
"Now, we get to play for a championship."
Huntington's defense was spectacular the entire game. The Oilers intercepted five passes, four off Los Al quarterback Cody Marshall, and held the Griffins to a season-low in points scored. Three of the interceptions came in the third quarter when the Oilers took control of the game.
Huntington's defense has held three league opponents to 10 or fewer points.
Quarterback Kai Ross threw touchdown passes to Wyatt Marlow and Marco Valenzuela, and the junior, who also starts at defensive back, put the game away with a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown to take the score to 28-7 with 2:27 left to play.
Ross stepped in front of Los Al receiver Kendall Brownlow at the Huntington 30-yard line to make the interception, and had nothing but an open field as he raced down the Los Al sideline untouched to the end zone.
"I'd been hearing them call that play all night, and I was ready when the ball came my way," Ross said.
Ross' theft ended a five-interception spree for Huntington which knocked off Los Al for the second straight year. Sophomore free safety Brayden McRae recorded the first pick late in the first half. Junior defensive back Tucker deCamp, senior lineman Sebastian Demartini, and McRae, again, had interceptions on each of Los Al's three possessions to start the second half.
"Turnovers were huge for us," Lo said. "No. 1 [Dashawn Gordon and No. 5 [Brownlow] are really athletic, and we wanted to get pressure on the quarterback [Marshall]. They got us a few times but our goal was to limit those big plays."
Huntington never trailed. The Oilers scored on their first possession when Bo Breunig scored on a 22-yard run. The senior running back broke off around left end and bowled over Griffins defensive back Derrick Worthy at the four, and plunged into the end zone. Marlow's conversion made it 7-0 with 8:43 left in the first quarter.
Los Al caught the Oilers on its ensuing drive when running back Richie Molina scored on a two-yard run. Marlow was just wide left on a 43-yard field goal attempt on Huntington's next possession, but he put the Oilers in front for good when the senior took in a seven-yard scoring pass from Ross. It put the Oilers up, 14-7, with 8:24 left in the half.
The Griffins looked as though they were moving in to tie the score again on their next drive. They moved from their own 19 down to the Huntington eight but on fourth-and-gold from the three, Oiler junior lineman Mathew Tavakoli and junior tackle Blake Harmon pressured Marshall who had to stop and force a jump pass into the end zone. It was intercepted by McRae with 3:31 left in the second quarter, and protected Huntington's lead at the half.
Behind the running of Breunig, Huntington went 66 yards on its first possession of the second half, to open up a 21-7 lead. Breunig ran six times during the 13-play drive which ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ross to Valenzuela. The Oilers converted three third-down plays during the march.
Los Al had great field position at its own 42 after Huntington failed on an ensuing onside kick, but the Oilers got the ball right back one play later, when deCamp intercepted receiver Luke Pastell at the Huntington 25 on a pass off a reverse play. On Los Al's next possession, the Griffins again appeared to be headed for a score when they reached the Huntington 31. On first down, Demartini made a huge play when he picked off a Marshall screen pass, and then rambled his way for 49 yards before being taken down at the Los Al 30.