Last year with high expectations coming into the season, San Luis Obispo High’s football team got off to a rocky start, losing to Garces of Bakersfield and Dos Pueblos each by a score of 21-20.
This year, they’ve had to replace PAC 7 MVP Garrett Gionnavelli, who’s trying to walk on to the baseball team at Arizona, and PAC 7 defensive back of the year Jack Ferguson, who’s redshirting at Cal Poly.
But perhaps with lower expectations, the Tigers are thriving, having reversed their fortunes from last season with a 34-21 win over Garces and a 17-0 win over Dos Pueblos. Both games were on the road.
Tonight, Tigers’ fans will get their first chance to see their team at home as San Luis Obispo faces Oxnard at 7 p.m.
Oxnard (0-1) was 6-5 overall last year and 4-1 in the Pacific View League before losing to Serra in a 49-14 first round CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoff loss.
“They have a smash-mouth team that runs the ball downhill,” San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley said. “They have a big, old offensive line that tries to control the line of scrimmage. They run the ball right at you.”
Ferguson contributed 110 tackles and eight sacks last year. Giovannelli logged 1,400 yards of total offense with 20 touchdowns as the engineer of the triple-option offense.
Though those two leave big shoes to fill, the same core backfield from last season is back – Sawyer Scott, Nate Greenelsh and Cole Bradley.
And senior starting quarterback Thomas Orradre has stepped in more than adequately thus far, logging 409 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
“Last year, Gio would just go off and we definitely miss seeing him out here,” Orradre said. “But I think what he taught me is never to be afraid of the moment to just go as fast and hard as you can.”
Orradre said that Giovannelli has been reviewing game tapes from Arizona and giving him feedback.
“He’ll email me saying ‘good read’ on a certain play or ‘bad read’ here,” Orradre said. “We’re good friends, and I’m actually going out to visit him at Arizona. It’s good to have his input.”
Orradre acknowledges he doesn’t have the same foot speed as Giovannelli, who was one of the county’s fastest players last season.
But the 6-foot-2, 180-pound quarterback has size and likes to throw, he said.
Orradre has completed 15 of 26 passes for 261 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing for 148 with a score.
Oxnard will be hungry to get its first win of the season after a 21-7 loss to Quartz Hill last week.
Four Yellowjackets players combined for 165 yards rushing, and quarterback Dalton Pagano threw for 64 yards on 10-of-17 passing with a touchdown. Andrew Valenzuela was the leading rusher with 65 yards on 12 carries.
Kelley credited his defense for stepping up against Dos Pueblos to earn the program’s first shutout since a 28-0 victory over Pioneer Valley in 2011.
“Our kids like to swarm,” Kelley said. “They fly around like a bunch of crazed tigers. At the same time, it’s early in the season and we have some inexperienced players, so we need to continue to get better at tackling and angles.”
Linebacker Scott, who plays fullback on offense, leads the Tigers in tackles with 17 and he’s tied for the team-high in sacks with two over the first two contests.
“I think we’ve been getting good reads off the snaps,” Scott said. “Steve Howard up front on the line has been getting really good push. …For me, I’m just trying to have good vision.”
In addition to leading the team with 11 tackles against the Chargers, Scott also topped the team in rushing with 68 yards and a touchdown.
Scott’s all-around standout performance was complemented by Greenelsh’s 70-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Greenelsh, typically prolific on offense, was limited to 11 yards on three carries.
But his defensive heroics at safety gave the Tigers an early boost. San Luis Obispo scored all 17 of its points in the first half.
“I think we’re playing well as a team in all areas of our game,” Greenelsh said. “It’s nice to start 2-0 and I think we’re going to get a good crowd here against Oxnard.”