With Joe Debely stadium out of commission for Friday's season home opener, Pitman was forced to travel out of town as the Pride hosted Downey in their season opener at Gregori High.
Pitman struggled to come together as a team in the first half, but after buckling down in the third quarter, the Pride went on to outscore the Downey Knights, 20-0, in a thrilling second half comeback that ended, 32-22.
“I didn't expect this ending,” said Pitman head coach Tom Tyler. “The first half didn't go as well but I was real happy with how we played in the second half, the kids really stepped up. Showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart, they played their a** off.”
The Pride, along with some misfortune and some contentious calls, allowed Downey to get up early on a broken play in the end zone that resulted in a 8-0 lead in the first.
After not coming away with anything in their next drive, Downey went on to take a 14-0 lead before Pitman went on the scoreboard after an electric kick return from Devan Bass.
Bass returned a punt in the second quarter with 2:40 left for 68-yards, out-running everyone on the corner with his speed but the Pride still trailed 14-6.
“Downey is a good football team,” said Tyler. “It goes like that sometimes. I thought that officiating crew did a good job of paying attention to stuff we didn't see, they officiated in the second half well.”
With the Pride nearly holding their breath for every close call, they managed to score on a kickoff return in the ensuing play to extend their lead to 22-6 by halftime.
“We didn't do anything special in the second half,” said Tyler. “We just decided to play and I'd like to see our offense do better but they held on to the ball and didn't make big mistakes with turnovers, we showed great character.”
The Pride offense committed no turnovers for the game and were able to finally find the end zone in the second half after tallying just 133 yards of total offense in the first half.
AJ Encalade provided the Pride with most of the offense needed after the senior caught three for 91 yards and scored a touchdown. He also rushed the ball five times for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Encalade was responsible for 143 of 278 yards of total offense for the night.
Encalade's first score came with 2:08 left in the first half after catching a 59-yard touchdown grab to cut the lead to 22-12.
Then, on the first play of the third quarter, Encalade busted out for his second touchdown after rushing up the center and down the sidelines for a 51-yard score to cut the lead to 22-19 with the entire second half remaining.
“I was really proud of them. We have a long ways to go but we saw great things,” said Tyler. “I was real proud of our guys. That is the key to the game, usually is, the turnovers. We took the ball away but we did a good job working through adversity in the first half.”
Pitman went on to contain Downey to just 88 yards of total offense in the second half, while accumulating 145 of their own and the defense forced two turnovers for the game.
The game became a stalemate for the next 20 minutes until with 5:24 left, Pitman's Anthony Carbajal made a crucial play after a Downey running back fumbled the ball and after grabbing it, Carbajal sprinted 23-yards into the end zone to give his team the first lead of the game.
“Once that ball popped into my hands it was like a beautiful Christmas gift floating up in the air, felt like it was up there for a long time,” said Carbajal. “I just took off as fast as I could and I thought they almost had me but my guys blocked well.”
With a four-point lead, the Pride went on to hold Downey in their next drive and finally picked off Downey's quarterback Brett Neves after Trenton Brock made a great interception in the air.
“We popped them first, slap their hands, anything we could do basically play defense like we were taught,” said Carbajal. “Giant momentum after this win. I feel like (Downey) is one of the better teams and I think we've got great momentum and hope it's all downhill from here.”
Pitman's next game will be on the road as they travel to Stockton to take on Lincoln at 7:15 p.m. Friday.