Nipomo scored the first 19 points Friday night. Santa Maria scored 41 of the last 47.

Thus, the Saints came away with a 41-25 win at Nipomo and the Northern League championship, the school's first football league title since 1988.

"I've just got so much adrenaline right now," senior Santa Maria running back-free safety Robert Ruiz said after he ran for 149 yards, including a seven-yard score.

Santa Maria (6-4, 3-0) locked up an automatic playoff bid after missing out on an at-large bid last year. Nipomo, which edged Santa Maria 19-13 for the Northern League title last year, finished the regular season 4-6, 2-1 and will likely get into the playoffs as the second-place team from the league.

The Saints won on the Titans' Senior Night.

After keeping the Saints out of the end zone until Blake Truhitte hit Jonathan Ramos for a 21-yard touchdown pass at the 3:30 mark of the second quarter, Nipomo's defense simply had no answer for the Santa Maria offense in the second half.

The Saints scored on five of their six second-half possessions after trailing 19-7 at halftime. Santa Maria gashed Nipomo after intermission with its inside running game, and Truhitte finished with 102 rushing yards to go with Ruiz's 149.

"I don't know if the offensive line was coming off the ball better or what in the second half, but they were opening the holes and I ran through them," said Ruiz.

Truhitte ran for two scores and threw for another in the second half. He pulled the Saints within 19-14 with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jorge Camarena and put them ahead with a four-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds left in the third quarter.

John Rojas set up the Saints' go-ahead drive when he intercepted NIpomo quarterback Brayden Groshart at the Santa Maria 46.

The Saints' second-half momentum surge started before the first play from scrimmage after intermission. Santa Maria's Diego Villagran recovered his own onside kick to start the second half, and Truhitte finished the Saints' 44-yard scoring drive with the touchdown pass to Camarena.

"I thought there were two really big plays," said Santa Maria coach Dan Ellington.

"The first was when we scored to cut the deficit to 12 (before the end of the first half). The second was when VIllagran recovered that onside kick."

Nipomo coach Tony Dodge said, "That onside kick was a great call by Santa Maria. It really gave them momentum when they recovered that."

Ruiz put the Saints ahead 34-19 with his seven-yard run. Groshart answered for the Titans with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jedu Reyes, but Ramos blocked the PAT try to keep it a two-score game at 34-25.

Frank Lopez sealed the deal for the Saints with a two-yard touchdown run with 1:13 left. That came after the Saints stopped Wynn just short of a first down on a fake punt on fourth down.

Nipomo made all the big plays early. Jesse Garza intercepted Truhitte on the third play of the game, and Groshart hit Gage Wynn for a 10-yard touchdown pass to finish the 33-yard scoring drive for the Titans.

The Saints blew a coverage later in the quarter, and Groshart hit a wide open Wynn over the middle for a 60-yard touchdown pass. After a bad snap on field goal formation foiled the Saints after their drive stalled at the Nipomo 9, the Titans recovered a Lopez fumble at the Santa Maria 16.

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Groshart hit Cole Bajema with a 26-yard touchdown pass three plays later.

After Nipomo kicker Jose Venegas had put every kick into the end zone, the Titans tried to catch the Saints by surprise with an onside kick, but the Saints recovered the ball.

Two 15-yard penalties on Nipomo aided a subsequent Santa Maria drive that ended with the touchdown pass to Ramos.

Santa Maria had a consistently productive running game in the second half, Nipomo didn't, and that helped make the difference. Santa Maria ends Gerardo Zul and Gabriel Bravo, and tackle Jason Sanchez helped the Saints bottle up the Titans' running attack most of the way.

"It was just getting the ball and reading what they were doing, the way we were coached," said Sanchez, a sophomore who is in his first year of varsity football.

"It was assignment football."

The Titans had played a pretty clean game up to then, but the penalties and turnovers began to mount against them as the second quarter wore on. Nipomo was hit with 11 accepted penalties on the night, and the Saints intercepted Groshart twice.

"We made way too many mistakes," said Dodge.

"Give a lot of credit to Santa Maria. I was disappointed with the way we finished the game." 

Joe Bailey is the sports editor at Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Contact him with tips and story ideas at jbailey@leecentralcoastnews.com or (805) 739-2239. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jbaileysmsports

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