Morro Bay High and Atascadero are at different points in the football food chain.
Morro Bay — a team coming off a loss and trying to rebuild a program with young players — will take on Atascadero — a talented and senior-laden squad hungry to get back on the field after a semifinal loss in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs last season — Friday at night at Atascadero High.
For Morro Bay, the test against a much bigger school and team like Atascadero will be made more difficult because of the absence of its starting quarterback. Morro Bay senior leader Isaac Manuputy labored through the Pirates’ season-opening 31-28 loss to Viewpoint after suffering a foot injury in a preseason scrimmage.
“Throughout the week, I was hurt,” Manuputy said of the week leading up to last week’s game. “I didn’t practice at all last week.”
Manuputy said he went to the doctor this week and an X-ray found no structural damage, just a deep tissue bruise. He expects to return to practice Monday. Senior Archie Torres will start in his place against Atascadero.
“Sophomore year when Isaac got pulled up for varsity after Dan Beavers got hurt I actually played quarterback down on JV,” Torres said. “It’s going to be interesting.”
As for the Greyhounds, they are at full strength and ready to go for their opener.
“After that loss we’ve been focused, everybody has been on key, we have pretty much just been working our butts off,” senior R.J. Reusche said of the 2014 season-ending loss to Newbury Park.
“I don’t know if excited is the right word,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “It’s been like torture for the kids knowing everybody had a game and we’re sitting here watching.”
For the Greyhounds, two quarterbacks who have been battling for the starting job will be watching a little longer Friday night, but not for long. Junior Carson Rinkenberger saw most of the first-string action at the end of summer camp, but the Greyhounds coaching staff wants to see more from senior Jeff Middleton and junior Elijah Cooks with the first-team offense.
“Rinkenberger will start the game but all three are going to take reps and we will probably make more of a definitive decision after this game,” Cooper said.
The Greyhounds might go to the air more than usual to get a look at each of the quarterbacks, but anyone heading to the game shouldn’t expect either team to air it out.
Morro Bay, led by coach David Kelley, runs a triple-option offense where passes are rare, with the additional burden of a quarterback who has never thrown a varsity pass. Atascadero makes its living on the ground, too. Last season the Greyhounds averaged 347 rushing yards per game.
Morro Bay knows it will have its hands full going up against the hungry Greyhounds, a team that beat the Pirates 41-0 last season.
“The last three years we haven’t scored a touchdown on them,” Torres says. “If we can put a touchdown on the scoreboard, that would be a big boost for me and the team.”
“They’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster,” Kelley said. “What’s it matter? It’s a preseason game. What’s a preseason game for? To get us ready for league.”
But Cooper isn’t ready to give his team its first win of the season just yet. He says going against a triple option team like Morro Bay with one game under its belt presents challenges for his defense.
“There’s no rest, there’s no easy games, there’s no gimmies,” Cooper said. “If there were gimmies then you would just go put it on a piece of paper and say it’s done. You have to go out there and strap it on.”
Atascadero Players to Watch: Look for senior Luciano Comie and junior Kian Biro to split time at the second linebacker spot next to running back/linebacker Marc Martin. Martin will also split time with Reusche at running back.
Morro Bay Players to Watch: Luis Alvarez, who led the Pirates with 81 yards rushing in last week’s loss, figures to get the bulk of the touches at running back. Also look for Kelley to try and get the ball in the hands of Brandon McGinley, the Pirates’ best playmaker. He caught a 70-yard touchdown pass last week against Viewpoint.