HUNTINGTON BEACH — Two big plays, one on the defensive end, the other, a last-second heave on offense, turned the tide for the Huntington Beach High football team Friday.
Huntington turned in a goal-line stand late in the first half against Bakersfield Christian to protect a precarious lead, then used a long touchdown pass on the final play of the half to establish control, and both plays went a long way in helping the Oilers emerge with a 32-10 victory in the 2013 season opener for both teams at Cap Sheue Field.
The defensive stance came when the Oilers stacked up Bakersfield Christian running back Matt Smith, who went on to rush for a game-high 103 yards, for a four-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal play with 2:05 remaining until halftime. It protected a 10-3 Huntington lead.
On Huntington's ensuing drive, receiver Maurice Barber caught a Kai Ross pass over the middle at the Oilers' 44-yard line, weaved his way to the outside and raced his way down the Huntington sideline before being brought down at the BC 33.
Ross was sacked on the next play for an eight-yard loss and two plays later, facing third down at the 41 with two seconds left, Ross again was chased, this time past midfield back into Huntington territory, but was able to elude several Eagles. With time expired, he ran to the left, set and threw toward the back of the end zone. There to make a great catch behind a BC defender was Tucker deCamp. His only reception of the half put the Oilers on top, 17-3.
It was a wild ending to the first half of a game that was marred by penalties called against both teams.
"It's the first game, and we got it over with," Huntington Coach Eric Lo said. "We had those first-game mistakes, for sure, and the penalties were ridiculous. One real good thing, I thought, was that we didn't turn the ball over, but we did miss a lot of assignments. We also had those two touchdowns called back. There were a lot of flags tonight."
Lo was right. In the first half alone, Huntington was flagged 11 times for 92 yards. In all, the Oilers were called for 19 penalties.
BC was penalized 11 times (13 total, but two were declined), nine of which came in the second half.
The Eagles, who last year were runner-up to the CIF Central Section Division 4 title, scored first. They took the opening kickoff and, aided by a pair of personal foul calls against Huntington, reached the Oilers' eight. The drive stalled but Nathan Dejager came on to connect on a 25-yard field goal.
Huntington, which entered the game with a No. 6 preseason ranking in the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division, answered right back. A five-play drive on their first offensive possession of the season took just under two minutes and was set up by a 36-yard kickoff return by Lee Durant. On first down, Ross found a wide open Nolan Thompson for a 20-yard pass play to the BC 30. The Oilers managed seven yards on the next three plays and on fourth-and-3 from the 23, Ross broke away from a would-be tackler in the backfield and shot up the middle to the end zone for the go-ahead score and a 7-3 lead.
A partially blocked punt by the Huntington defense early in the second quarter set up the Oilers at the BC 33. The Oilers reached the 12 but settled for a 34-yard field goal by Daniel Flores with 10:07 left in the quarter. After the teams traded punts, BC got the ball back with 7:20 left in the half and marched from its own 15 down to the Huntington 8.
On first and goal, Smith fought his way for seven yards to the one. On second down, he was met in the backfield by Huntington defensive lineman Lucio Rosas who dropped Smith for a three-yard loss. A third-down pass by quarterback Brandon Jones fell incomplete in the end zone.
On fourth down from the four, the Oilers defense was hit with an encroachment call. From the two, Smith again got the call but he was swarmed in by a host of Oilers, led by Barber, who dropped him for a four-yard loss.
"That was a great play," Lo said of the fourth-down stance. "Our guys came up big down there when it was still anybody's game."
On Huntington's touchdown drive that closed out the half, Durant kept it alive with runs of 20 and 12 yards, Barber extended it with his sizzling, 33-yard reception, and Ross ended it with his escape on the run that ended with deCamp making a big catch in the back of the end zone.
"That was Kai Ross being the good athlete that he is," Lo said of the senior's scramble and save. "Tucker [deCamp] made a great catch and he's a real good athlete, too. He had that other nice catch there toward the end of the game. We made some big plays tonight."
Including two that were for naught.
Durant returned the second-half kickoff 84 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it was negated by an illegal block call against the Oilers. Late in the third quarter, Ross took an interception back 71 yards for another apparent score, but it was wiped off by a defensive holding call.
Barber came up with an interception at the BC 37 with 5:21 left in the third quarter and it led to Huntington's next score. Ross lofted a pass to the left corner of the end zone which Thompson was able to get under and make a great catch. The score gave the Oilers a 24-3 advantage.