POWAY — It took only one game for Poway Coach Brad Elrod to learn that fullback Greg Warden responds rather promptly to direction.
The ball was on the Granite Hills 33 Friday when Elrod summoned Warden.
"Coach called the play and told me, 'OK break it, break this one,' " Warden said. "Hal McCullum (the tailback) hit the linebacker, the hole opened up and I just broke it and veered to the right corner of the end zone. Nobody touched me."
Poway trailed, 7-0, midway through the third quarter until Warden's touchdown tied the score and got his team rolling toward a 13-7 upset of fourth-rated Granite Hills.
Warden, playing in his first varsity game, rushed for 97 yards in 10 carries to earn him The Times' Player of the Week honors.
"I just played like I was told to play," said the 5-foot 10-inch junior fullback/linebacker.
So when Elrod told him to break that 33-yard for a touchdown, he did.
"That broke the ice for us," Elrod said. "We were moving the ball real good, but we were looking for that first time to put it in the end zone. Greg's run was a big emotional lift for us."
Warden felt the difference after the kickoff when he went back to linebacker, his defensive position.
"I was out on defense after the kickoff and it was awesome," he said. "Our whole team was ready . . . I just got in the trenches and tried to get down and hit somebody."
Granite Hills, however, began a drive that moved the Eagles to the Poway 10 before the Warden-led defense stopped them and took over. On the ensuing possession, Paul Escola, who alternates at fullback with Warden, ran 89 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
Yet, Granite Hills still looked as if it had a chance. With two minutes remaining, Poway had a fourth and eight from its 40. The Titans lined up to punt.
"I thought I heard an audible call from the sideline," said Warden, a halfback in a punt formation. "They hiked it to me and I saw the line was just packed. They had four (defenders) on each side."
Warden picked up the eight yards to keep Poway's drive going and Granite Hills' hopes fading.
Warden, who also is a starting inside linebacker and calls signals on defense, had a tough task going against Granite Hills' running backs Tom Vardell (6-2, 205) and Robert Padillo (6-0, 187), who combined for nearly 1,400 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns last season.
"It was one of those games where we were just fighting in the trenches the whole time," Warden said. "They were yelling at us from the sideline trying to intimidate us. They thought they could just power past us."
Said Elrod: "I don't know what the stats are, but playing on the inside, Greg was in on a lot of tackles. He's an integral part of our defense.
"We knew he was going to be a good football player. They (the returning coaches) had real high expectations of him. He's a real hard worker, a team leader."