MORRO BAY — Morro Bay High’s Varsity Football Team finished up a magical season one game short of total glory but four games through a whirlwind sprint through the playoffs, earning CIF Divisional and Regional Championships but ending the year as runners-up for a State Championship.

Coach Jake Goossen-Brown spoke humbly a few days after his Pirates Team beat Loara High of Anaheim 35-27 to win the Div. 7AA Southern Regional Championship at home. In just his second full season at MBHS—2020 was a COVID shortened spring season—he’s achieved what just one other coach had in school history—winning the CIF Division (Div. VI) Championship, after 1995 when Head Coach Sythell Thompson led Morro Bay to the title in a 55-15 win over Templeton.

“My goal was to win two games that [first] year,” Coach Goossen-Brown told Morro Bay Life. The year before, they’d won zero games under a different coach. 

This year they posted a 2-5 Ocean League record, good enough for third place and a spot in the Central Section Div. VI CIF Playoffs, where they won their first-round game and then beat Righetti of Santa Maria for the Championship. They beat another team and then held off a scrappy Loara squad for the Regional Title and entered never-before-seen territory—the State Championships.

They traveled to Falls River in McArthur, Calif., in Shasta County to play for all the enchiladas and ran into a brick wall, losing 43-13 on a cold, blustery night to a team that went undefeated at 13-0 on the season. Morro Bay ended the year at 8-7 but added two impressive Championship Plaques to the school’s trophy case.

Coach Goossen-Brown said they had an up and down season but, “We hit our stride and started playing consistently” in the playoffs. And anyone who’s ever caught fire and made a championship run can attest, that’s the key.

Along the way, they won back the “Clash of the Coast” Trophy with a thrilling overtime win over rivals Templeton High, which the coach said means almost as much to the kids as the CIF Championship rings and lettermen’s patches they’ll soon receive and wear with pride.

The Templeton win and return of the perpetual trophy to his office in the locker room was a big win.

With the Loara game, he said, they knew going in they had a tough game coming on. “They were well-coached,” he explained, “We knew that from the film.” They were a tough, physical team that ran the ball effectively, and it would be a battle, just as every playoff game was. He said they needed to have their defense find a way to make some big plays, and they did, with sophomore Nami Hoag, who stripped the ball from a Loara runner at the goal line and then dashed about 45 yards the other way to end a huge threat. 

Hoag is a sophomore that Coach Goossen-Brown said had played Junior Varsity all season and was brought up to Varsity for the playoffs. The CIF Championship Game was his first start.

Then with time running out and Loara threatening to tie the score, Manny Diaz stripped the ball, and Johnny Botello recovered in the end zone for a touchback that iced the win.

“It was impressive what they were able to do,” said Coach Goossen-Brown. “It was a good opportunity for us, and we were lucky to be there to seize it.” 

He added that Diaz is also a sophomore, and Botello, a junior, was lined up at cornerback on the other side of the field and pursued all the way across the field for the fumble recovery.

But the Pirates lived and died by the pass, which against Loara worked well, as quarterback Nicky Johnson found wide receiver Ethan Lisman several times on a wide-open crossing route that the junior turned into big, clutch plays for first downs against Loara. 

Senior running back Dylan Turner was a monster running the ball and turning short passes into big gains. Turner scored three touchdowns on the ground and caught a touchdown pass too. He had over 100 all-purpose yards and continued his smart play.

Johnson, who started for the first time last season against Atascadero, where he led the Pirates to a big 1-point win, proved in that COVID-shortened season that he was the quarterback of the future. 

“He worked his butt off all off-season,” Coach said of Johnson. After that big win over Atascadero, “I saw what he could be.” They instituted an off-season passing league program, and Johnson excelled. 

“That’s why we were able to throw the ball so effectively,” said Coach Goossen-Brown. “Nicky takes it very seriously. He comes in early to watch film. He cares a lot and wants to be good. I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in our area now.”

Of his two offensive leaders—Johnson and Turner—coach said, “If something happened to me, Nicky or Dylan would call the offense; they know it so well. They are really committed to being great.”

Goossen-Brown, who coached for 11 years at Notre Dame Academy before coming to MBHS in 2019, said Turner’s football I.Q. “is the best I’ve ever seen. I trust them, and I trust Dylan’s knowledge. He’s pretty sophisticated for a high school player right now.”

Wideout Lisman also had a monster game against Loara, with over 100 yards receiving and one touchdown. He seemed to catch everything thrown his way, including a long pass down the sidelines that he wrestled away from the defender to set up a score and a touchdown reception where he went to his knees to rein it in.

Johnson showed real clutch play in the CIF Divisional Game as well, completing 24 of 35 passes for 324 yards and four scores. “He threw just four interceptions all year,” said the coach.

The team’s success has been bolstered with a lot of community support from local businesses, including Lolo’s, Carla’s, and Tognazzini’s Dockside restaurants, which have hosted team dinners, plus numerous others like Mike’s Barbershop, which gave all the kids haircuts. 

“We’ve had an unbelievable amount of community support this year,” he said. “And they did it before we were winning. It’s been wonderful.”

And while they may have ended this season one game short of eternal glory, they return a lot of players next year, and who knows, maybe lightning will strike once again and propel the Pirates into that stratospheric level that only a handful of schools can claim.