Jack Ferguson is fast, but racing Elias Stokes to the sideline is a losing proposition for most.
So the San Luis Obispo High junior linebacker did the next-best thing once the Paso Robles senior quarterback and reigning Tribune County Player of the Year got past him — strip the ball away.
Ferguson’s forced fumble was the last big play in a wild back-and-forth game full of them, and the Tigers (4-1, 1-0 PAC 7) ended a four-year losing streak to Paso Robles (1-2, 0-1 PAC 7) with a 25-21 homecoming victory Friday at Holt Field.
Stokes had 1 minute, 6 seconds to try and drive the Bearcats 75 yards for what could have been the winning score. Instead, San Luis Obispo knelt on the ball after recovering the first-down fumble on the tail end of a 12-yard scramble.
The previous Tigers victory against Paso Robles came in a 29-12 win in 2006.
The streak held more weight with San Luis Obispo head coach David Kelley, who was an assistant on the staff in 2006, than it did with the Tigers players, but breaking the skid fits with a consistent message the players are trying to send.
“We’ve been talking about getting the respect back at SLO all season,” Ferguson said, “and I think we’re on track to do that. I think with this win, we showed that we’re here to stay.”
San Luis Obispo fullback Jacob Flores ran 19 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns, including scoring runs of 31 and 57 yards.
Flores’ first scoring run helped counter a 27-yard touchdown pass from Stokes to Dakota Salazar that gave Paso Robles a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
The second touchdown run by Flores gave the Tigers their first lead of the game at 18-13 with 2:39 left before the half and followed a 15-yard loss by Tigers quarterback Garrett Giovannelli, who could not scramble away to avoid a sack.
“I’ve got great blockers in front of me,” Flores said. “That offensive line, they’re taking care of business, and when that field opens up, it’s speed from there, just outrun the other team.”
San Luis Obispo’s other first-half touchdown had most of the stadium anticipating a turnover while the ball was in the air.
Giovannelli hit receiver Trevor McGuire for a 32-yard touchdown, but the ball had to bobble away from the capable hands of Stokes, who starred at receiver last season and was playing safety on the play, before it fell into McGuire’s grasp.
“The one that kind of hurt us was the third-down, knocked-down pass that got tipped into the air for a touchdown,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke said. “I thought it was great coverage right here. There were some turnovers tonight, but in the end, the ball rolled their way.”
There were eight turnovers combined by both teams, several giving each a chance to seal or steal the game late.
The Tigers lost the ball on all four of their fumbles and threw one interception. Paso Robles only lost one of three fumbles, but that one and two second-half interceptions thrown by Stokes hurt.
Stokes was 13 of 23 for 168 yards and ran 11 times for 50 yards. Colton Madrigal had a team-high 16 carries for 57 yards.
Though most of those runs went for short yardage, the Bearcats did get a big run from Max Blanton, who took an end-around 87 yards for a touchdown to give Paso Robles a 21-18 lead in the third quarter.
It looked as if the Bearcats would take a two-score lead when Giovannelli fumbled the ball away on the next possession, but Marek Johnson took the ball right back for San Luis Obispo, picking off Stokes and setting up a 12-play, 74-yard drive that featured two fourth-down conversions and was finished off by an 11-yard touchdown run by Eric Cordova.
“That was pretty good momentum for us,” Kelley said, “how we responded to take the lead.”