Paso Robles High came back time and again Friday night.
The defending Northern Division champion Bearcats overcame an early deficit against a more experienced Clovis team, but a few late miscues proved to be Paso Robles' undoing in a 27-24 loss at War Memorial Stadium.
Junior Christian Erickson turned in a dominant performance for the Bearcats, rushing for a game-high 167 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. The 6-foot, 215-pound running back tallied scoring runs of 27, 7 and 4 yards, breaking through tackles on each one.
“He runs like a man possessed,” Paso Robles coach Rich Schimke said.
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Despite Erickson’s big night, the Bearcats had trouble slowing the Cougars’ passing attack. Quarterback Sean Kuenzinger passed for 238 yards and four touchdowns, two apiece to electric seniors Coltin Velasquez and JJ Wills.
When Clovis went ahead 27-24 with 5:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, Paso Robles (0-1) had multiple opportunities to put together a scoring drive. But a pair of turnovers in the final 3:33 sealed the game for the visiting Cougars.
“That was a lesson we had to learn,” Paso Robles senior linebacker Matthew Keller said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way. But it was a battle. It was a close game. Those are the games I like to play in.”
Player of the game: Sean Kuenzinger may have made his case to be Clovis’ starting quarterback the rest of the season. He and junior Trey Lake competed for the No. 1 spot this summer and the two quarterbacks split reps in the first half.
That didn’t last long, though.
Kuenzinger played the entire second half and finished the game 11 for 18 passing for 238 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Speedy senior JJ Wills proved to be his favorite target, connecting on five passes for 100 yards and two scores. Wills pulled in a 27-yard pass early in the first quarter and a 38-yard scoring strike on the first play of the second period.
Big numbers: Paso Robles piled up 445 yards of total offense — 323 rushing, 122 passing — against a Clovis team that is considered to be among the top teams in the valley this season.
Erickson’s 33 carries were the second-most during his career. He ran the ball 36 times against Arroyo Grande as a sophomore last season, and Erickson had two other 30-carry performances in 2014.
It was Erickson’s ninth time surpassing 100 yards rushing and the fourth time he’s scored three touchdowns in one game.
Penalties pile up: It was a typically sloppy season-opener for both teams.
The Bearcats were penalized 10 times for 45 yards, which included four delay-of-game penalties during a five-play stretch in the second quarter. Clovis committed 11 penalties for 90 yards, many of them negating long plays offensively.
“That’s all on me,” Schimke said. “That’s not on the kids.”
Up next: Paso Robles plays another talented team next week when it travels to Camarillo, which rolled to a 51-17 win against Rio Mesa on the road Friday night.
The Bearcats defeated Camarillo 41-35 last season, part of a nine-game winning streak to start the season.
“We’ve got to come back next week and jump in against another top-5 team in our division at their place," Schime said. “We’ve got to jump back on that hot seat again.”