The odds were stacked against the Paso Robles High School football team from the start.
Following a loss to open the season, head coach Larry Grant left the team and a lot of unanswered questions. Then, as the losses piled up, Frederick Thompkins — a transfer expected to be a major contributor — was ruled ineligible. But led by the steady hand of interim coach J.R. Reynolds, Paso Robles seemed to have found its season savior in the form of sophomore quarterback Hunter Barnhart, who led the team to a win over defending PAC 5 champion Arroyo Grande and two more league wins.
But Barnhart wasn’t dressed as Paso Robles looked to lock up the PAC 5 title at War Memorial Stadium against rivals Atascadero on Friday night. Neither were a handful of key starters, including running back Julian Madrigal, offensive lineman Scott Pedretti and defensive end Austin Gutierrez.
It didn’t matter.
Junior quarterback Reese Brumley, the third quarterback to start for Paso Robles this season, filled in for Barnhart and helped lead the Bearcats to their first outright league title since 2011 with a 21-14 win over Atascadero (3-7, 1-3 PAC 5).
“I told these guys there are a lot of people that are going to doubt you, but we are a resilient group, and I knew we had what it takes to win,” Reynolds said.
Next Man Up
Brumley hit five different receivers on the night and finished the game 13-of-20 for 128 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions passing to go along with 40 yards rushing.
He found out Tuesday that he would be making his second start of the season.
“I was a little nervous, but I knew that my team has got my back, and I knew I could play with them,” Brumley said. “I didn’t think we were going to throw that much, but we gotta do what we gotta do to win, and I trust my coach 100 percent.”
Brumley’s best drive of the night came as the first half was winding down. With a 14-0 lead and around two minutes to go, Brumley hit on two big pass plays to lead Paso Robles on a 65-yard scoring drive. His 7-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Daede Murphy put the Bearcats up 21-0 at halftime and proved to be the difference.
Little Guys Come Up Big
All three Paso Robles touchdowns were scored by the two smallest players on the field. Murphy, who’s listed at 5-foot-7, had four catches for 33 yards and a touchdown.
“We had a tough first four or five games, and it just helped us in the PAC 5,” Murphy said. “We knew once we got to league, it would turn around.”
Running back Orlando Quintana, who’s listed at 5-foot-8 and hasn’t seen many carries this season, scored two touchdowns filling in for Madrigal.
Quintana didn’t have huge numbers, but he was able to pick up enough yards to keep the ground game going, and his 19-yard touchdown run in the second quarter put Paso Robles up 14-0. He finished the game with 13 carries for 81 yards.
The Paso Robles defense intercepted the first two Greyhounds’ pass attempts in the first quarter. First, it was Noah Durfee, who wasn’t fooled on a flea-flicker attempt to pick up an interception, then it was senior transfer Sincere Jackson.
With the Paso Robles offense stalled in the second half by a pair of Atascadero interceptions, the defense stepped up.
A sack by Paso Robles senior Hunter Deverick on fourth down with 3:57 to play effectively ended Atascadero’s comeback attempt.
The Greyhounds’ only touchdowns came on a third-quarter run by Kobe Cross and an Arik Machado run following a Paso Robles fumble near the goal line with three minutes to play. Machado finished with 23 carries for 70 yards.
Barnhart is not expected to return this season after suffering a knee injury, but Reynolds said some of the starters who sat out Friday will be ready when the playoffs begin next week. Paso Robles (5-4, 4-0 PAC 5) will find out its first-round opponent when the CIF-Southern Section Division Division 4 brackets are released at 10 a.m. Sunday.