HUNTINGTON BEACH — Within the first four minutes of their season opener Thursday, the Huntington Beach Oilers looked as though they had picked up where they had left off last season: on a roll.
Nine months after winning the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division championship, Huntington started a new campaign at Cap Sheue Field against Coronado. The Oilers looked as though they would have their way with the visitors from Henderson, Nev., by staking their way to an early, two-touchdown lead over the stunned Cougars.
Turned out, that hot start would amount to the only lead of the night for the Oilers.
Coronado ran off 21 consecutive points over the final 17 minutes of the first half, built its lead to as many as 21 points en route to a 41-26 victory.
Not only did the setback spoil Huntington's opener, it also put an end to a five-game win streak the Oilers carried into the new season.
"We're not very good right now," Huntington Coach Eric Lo said after the game. "Coronado played harder than us, and deserved to win. We have a long way to go.
"Offensively, besides that first touchdown, we didn't do anything in the first half. We couldn't run the ball the way that we thought we could."
Before many of the spectators had settled into their seats, lightning struck for Huntington. It came in the form of senior running back Travis Heer who bolted his way for an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.
Heer, the Oilers' leading rusher last year with 923 yards and 11 touchdowns, hit an open gap provided by his offensive linemen and took off straight up field. He cut to his right and outraced the Cougars defense. He outlasted the pace of defensive back Wade Jacobs the final 30 yards, was tripped up at the seven by Jacobs but kept his feet and stumbled into the end zone.
Maliek Miller's conversion kick gave Huntington a 7-0 lead 15 seconds into the game.
But that would be the only offensive highlight for the Oilers in the opening half. They would, however, go up, 13-0, three minutes later thanks to their defense.
With Coronado moving from its own 17 yard line down to the Huntington 46, Jordan Patterson, the Cougars' tough and talented junior running back, coughed up the ball after a six-yard gain. The Oilers' Chris Renne scooped up the loose ball near midfield and raced down the Coronado sideline to the end zone.
Miller's kick went wide yet Huntington had widened its lead.
"It was a great start but I think we got overconfident after that," Lo said.
Coronado Coach Brad Talich chalked up his team's early deficit to opening game jitters.
"That was more nerves, than anything," he said of his team's woeful start. "We play a lot of young kids and we have a young defensive line. They were out of position on that first play but started to settle down after that.
"We (coaches) told the kids on the sideline that the game was far from over. We knew coming in that Huntington was a very good football program. I had studied them a lot on film and from what I saw of them, I knew that this would be a big challenge for us. But out kids stuck with it and came up with a big win tonight."
Coronado started to mount its comeback when senior quarterback John Farella scored on a one-yard run with 4:14 left in the first quarter. The Cougars took the lead for good, 14-13 with 7:46 left in the half when tight end Travis Boman took in an eight-yard scoring pass from Farella and Spencer Cofer provided the point after.
In the final minute of the half, Patterson got the final three of his 83 yards of the half on a touchdown run. Cofer's kick gave the Cougars a 21-13 halftime lead.
Coronado further put Huntington in a hole by taking the second half kickoff in for its fourth touchdown. The key plays during an 80-yard scoring drive included an eight-yard scramble by Farella, a 13-yard pass from Farella to receiver Travis Little, and a five-yard run by Patterson. Each play came on third down and kept the drive alive.
The Cougars converted four, third-down plays during the march, the last coming on a seven-yard TD run on an inside reverse by receiver Michael Simpson.
It took Coronado's lead to 27-13 at the midway point of the third quarter.
"We missed tackles and looked like we were getting tired out there, and they (Coronado) converted a lot of third-down plays," Lo said.
Huntington countered Simpson's run with its second offensive score of the game. The Oilers took the ensuing kickoff and marched 65 yards. The score came on a 23-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Chad James to Miller. The extra-point also came from Miller and it drew Huntington to within 27-20 with 2:05 to go in the third quarter.
Huntington did hold Coronado on its next possession, but the Oilers would get no closer.
After taking over at its own one-yard line with 11:02 remaining, James fumbled the ball on a handoff attempt. It was recovered in the end zone by defensive end Myles Holland, and the score put Coronado in front, 33-20.
James was intercepted three plays after Holland's recovery and Coronado moved down to the Huntington one. On first-and-goal, Cougars running back Nick Trejo fumbled while extending the ball toward the goal line. The Oilers recovered in the end zone and still had life with 6:48 left.
On the next play, Coronado linebacker Joseph Oliva stepped in front of a James pass to make an interception and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. The Cougars took a commanding lead at 41-20.
It was the third interception of the game for James who was making his first start.
"Chad had a tough go of it," Lo said of James. "He'll learn from this and get better."
James bounced back and connected on a nice, long throw to senior receiver Nolan Thompson to station Huntington at the Coronado 20 with just over five minutes left. Five players later, junior running back Hunter Simmons ran in from three yards out on third-and-goal to finish the scoring with 4:35 remaining.
Talich said his squard arrived in Huntington Beach Wednesday and practiced at Fountain Valley High.
The Cougars head back to Henderson Friday, he said.
"This has been a good trip for us and to come out of here with a win is very exciting," Talich said. "It's a great win but as I told the kids, this is just the start for us."
Huntington returns to the gridiron Sept. 5 when it hosts San Clemente at 7 p.m. at Sheue Field.
Huntington Beach Oilers (0-1)
Sept. 5: San Clemente
Sept. 12: JSerra
Sept. 19: Moorpark
Sept. 26: at Downey
Oct. 10: at *Newport Harbor
Oct. 17: at *Edison
Oct. 23: *Fountain Valley
Oct. 31: *Los Alamitos
Nov. 7: at *Marina