Edison High senior Anthony Shepard feared this week that it could be a “bumpy road” for the Tigers in their first state football bowl experience.
It was much worse — at least a little like the flooding on Highway 99 in Delano that caused heck for thousands of southbound drivers, including many from the Fresno area making the journey to northern San Diego County for Friday night’s game.
You needed a boat to navigate it.
Edison needed an aircraft carrier, if not some serious assistance from nearby Camp Pendleton, to contend with host Oceanside.
The Tigers never had a chance in a 37-22 loss in the Southern California Regional Division I Bowl Championship.
Yet, down 37-6, they did have their student body — drenched, standing and screaming — when they scored on two Khai Williams runs and two Hunter Swearingen conversion passes in the fourth quarter.
With 5 minutes remaining, an Oceanside fan actually barked to the team, “Hey, game’s not over yet.”
Give it to Edison for at least causing the home folks to do some scoreboard watching to the wire.
But, truly, it was a mismatch.
Shepard, a defensive end, was concerned with the team’s ability to gear back up emotionally following a 21-14 win over Liberty-Bakersfield last week for the Central Section D-I title — the school’s first top-division crown in 39 years.
And he was more leery of playing far from home — 310 miles, to be exact.
But it was much more than that.
Begin with Oceanside, the Bakersfield Drillers of San Diego Section football.
Bakersfield has won a state-record 36 section titles since first snapping a football more than 100 years ago.
Oceanside has won 13 section crowns in 26 years under coach John Carroll.
They named the campus stadium after him Monday. Then his Pirates — 14-0 and ranked fifth in the state by Cal-Hi Sports — extended the celebration on a wet, cool night six blocks from the ocean.
They didn’t disguise the party, either.
It was Johnny Arzola for 14 yards on a fly sweep on Oceanside’s first play and the same marvelous playmaker on a 19-yard reception from Matt Romero on the next.
The first quarter ended 16-0 Pirates, and with a 175-2 advantage in total yards.
Then it was 30-6 and 284-105 at half.
Game, set, match.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to get back up after you’ve climbed the mountain,” Edison coach Matt Johnson said. “But, no excuses, that’s a hell of an Oceanside team.”
Edison (12-2), ranked 12th in the state, would have needed about 20 A.J. Greeleys to pull off a miracle comeback.
Only it had zero A.J. Greeleys.
One of the Central Section’s elite players as a wide receiver/wildcat quarterback/safety/punter, he left for good soon after the game began with a separated shoulder.
“That took a while for all of us to recover from,” Johnson said. “I about lost my intestines when he went out that early. We had to coach (defensive) guys on the fly without A.J. being there. Offensively, he was going to touch the ball a lot. And, as a punter, we didn’t have a contingency plan for that.”
Greeley’s absence on defense — costing the Tigers a player who long ago pledged allegiance to Fresno State, but could very well be an Oregon Duck — left a playground for Romero.
Not like he needed a break.
Johnson said this week that his team had seen nothing like Romero this season. The wonderfully accurate quarterback played catch with Arzola and other highly skilled receivers, completing 23 of 36 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns.
Romero did get a brief feel of an Edison secondary that largely had its way this season when Tyler Horton returned an interception 50 yards in the second quarter.
“I noticed No. 1 (Greeley) was out, but, that No. 3 (Horton), man, that dude’s a baller,” Romero said.
The Tigers scored on the next play on Swearingen’s 39-yard pass to a wide-open Kamron Lewis.
That made it a game, trailing only 16-6.
But Romero quickly made sure that this would be Oceanside’s night.