Comets drop wild game with 2-time national champion, state No. 1 Fullerton

QB Connor Curry is off on a 46-yard run to cap the game's first series. (Hugh Cox Photo)
QB Connor Curry is off on a 46-yard run to cap the game's first series. (Hugh Cox Photo)

GAME BOX

ESCONDIDO (10-06-2018) (REVISED 10-07-2018) – Two-time defending state and national champion Fullerton turned back Palomar 56-31 in National (State Playoff) Division Central League opener on Saturday night at Escondido High's Chick Embrey Field at Wilson Stadium.

What right out of the blocks turned out to be a wild game featured 1,041 offensive yards by the two teams.

But the state No. 1-ranked Hornets' 26th straight victory wasn't achieved until the Comets had put up an extended on-again, off-again battle on a long evening that included 351 combined total offense yards by quarterbacks Connor Curry and Shea Morales, continuous spectacular plays by both teams, injuries (several of them sustained by Curry) and 232 yards in penalties both ways that sometimes slowed play to a crawl.

"We started out well but had way too many untimely penalties and some uncharacteristic penalty calls and gave up way too many explosive plays," Palomar coach Joe Early said. "Then there were the injuries, especially to (Curry). We started the season with four quarterbacks, and we may be down to one of them.

"But they have a 26-game winning streak for a reason.  They're very explosive and physical, and they don't beat themselves. Now despite everything we've got a similar someone to face next week (state No. 8-ranked Mt. SAC on Saturday night at Wilson Stadium), which is a team that is about as physical and explosive as Fullerton."

Palomar received the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards down the field to take an early lead. Shevell Sterling ran the ball three straight times on the first series of the night, culminating in a quick first down, Curry broke off a 10-yard run, passed 8 yards to Logan Gamble, then rambled 45 yards on a quarterback keeper for the first touchdown of the night. Mark Meader kicked the first of his four extra points and the Comets led 7-0 with 12:05 left in the opening quarter.

Just 45 seconds later, the Hornets tied the game and the wild night was underway.

Beginning with 11:12 remaining in the first quarter until the middle of the second quarter, Fullerton put up a string of unanswered points, including a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown, and went on top 35-7.

But back game the Comets, who retaliated with two 1-yard DeVion Sneed touchdown runs, two Meader PAT's and his 28-yard field goal that put Palomar back in the game and closed the Fullerton's lead to 35-24 with 6:56 left in the third quarter.  

Lamar Raboteau returned a kickoff 83 yards to the Fullerton 6-yard line to set up Sneed's first touchdown, with 6:43 remaining in the second quarter. The Comets then drove 84 yards in 12 plays when Curry ran for 27 yards on three plays and completed four passes to Mikel Barkley, three which went for gains of 9, 23 and 24 yards, to set up Sneed's second touchdown with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Jihad Hightower, who had six solo tackles, intercepted a pass at the Palomar 6-yard line to set up a string of plays that led to Meader's field goal. On the drive, Curry connected with Gamble on a 31-yard pass play, Sneed ran twice for 11 tyards, Curry threw to Malachi Russell for 11 yards and Devin Nilson for 19 yards and, after a sack followed by Sterling's 2 yard run to the Hornets' 10 and the field goal.

During the course of the game, however, Curry re-injured his non-throwing hand, appeared to hurt his throwing hand on a sack, left the game, returned to the game, hobbled between plays on his already injured leg, but was able to sprint when he had to both on passing and running plays. But then was leveled by a Fullerton defender and sustained an injury to his good leg.

He spent the rest of the evening on the sideline on crutches.

"I've got to get tougher," Curry said on the sideline as the clock ticked down. But he's proved time and again that toughness is already a huge part of his repotoire.

And the Hornets, meanwhile, took full advantage of Palomar penalties and mistakes to stretch their lead back out to 56-24 before Morales, who had been in and out of the game with Curry's various penalties, drove the Comets down the field and passed to Gamble for a 4-yard touchdown that brought the final score to 56-31.

Jacob Stepanek's 50-yard punt, a fumble recovery by Damon Wigand and two short rushes by Raboteau set up the final TD.

Stepanek averaged 42.3 yards for seven punts, pinned Fullerton at its 15-yard line with a 44-yarder and at its 14-yard line with a 39-yarder and had another punt that would have pinned the Hornets and their 1-yard line nullified when Palomar accepted a roughing-the-kicker penalty call.

Barkley (5 receptions for 57 yards, Zach Morel (4 catches for 84 yards), Gamble (4 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown), Russell (4 catches for 45 yards) and Johnny Armentrout (2 catches) led Palomar's receiving corps.

Martin Boracci (7 tackles, 6 solo and 2.5 sacks) and Chris Calhoun (7 tackles, 6 solo and a sack) for the Comets defensively.

Chris Murray had a big night playing special teams. Following a review of game video, Murray's adjusted totals were 6 tackles (5 solo) and a forced fumble.

"Late in the first half, we got to their 1-yard line and couldn't score, then they came back and scored. That was a 14-point swing," Early said. "They not only don't beat themselves, they take advantage of your mistakes."