The Templeton High football team is running into some uncharted territory.
Starting with tonight’s game at 7 at Arroyo Grande’s Doug Hitchen Stadium, the school will face PAC 7 programs in back-to-back weeks for the first time.
Arroyo Grande (2-0), ranked No. 6 in this week’s CIF-Southern Section Western Division poll, has an enrollment of roughly 1,400 more students than Templeton (as does next week’s foe, 2-0 Righetti).
It’s believed to be the first-ever meeting between the two schools that both use Eagles as a mascot moniker, as Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen, who has been on staff in at least an assisting capacity since 1986, can’t recall a previous encounter.
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In 2005, Templeton opened its current upgraded stadium, and a year later, the program moved from more feeble competition in the Central Section into the larger Southern Section.
Ranked No. 1 in the Northwest Division poll all season thus far (recently dipping to No. 2 at CalPreps.com), Templeton (2-0) features one of its most talented defenses in school history, yielding just three points per game and averaging four sacks per outing.
A pair of senior linebacker standouts, Daulton Oropeza and Tyler Gray, are Nos. 1 and 2 in the area in tackles, respectively, with 23 and 20.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Gray, who also has three sacks, is rated by Rivals.com as the No. 32 college outside linebacker prospect nationally, and in June he was named the best at his position at the Miami-hosted Randy Shannon Football Camp.
However, Gray isn’t the only member of the defense to have enjoyed productive opening weeks. Along Templeton’s defensive line, 6-4, 250-pound sophomore Ross Berry has 14 tackles, while 6-4, 240-pound junior Casey Dakin has three sacks.
On offense, Templeton has relied largely on a running back-by-committee system, as four different backs have accumulated between nine and 20 carries early on.
“Everyone talks about Tyler Gray, and he’s an outstanding player, but they have quite a few players,” Goossen said. “I look at their defensive line, and they’re rugged. Offensively, they’re able to move the ball. And they have a middle linebacker (Oropeza) who’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
“I don’t care if they have an enrollment of 200 or 2,000. They have some kids who can play football.”
During the preseason, Templeton players spoke about naturally looking forward to having the opportunity to compete on a PAC 7 stage in a larger environment, but second-year coach Dave Harper has tried to downplay that aspect.
“We know it’s a big game,” Harper said. “We understand the significance, but we’re preparing like we would for anybody.
“(The players) just want to have a good showing.”
Other Los Padres League teams have commonly scheduled at least one neighboring PAC 7 opponent in recent years, such as Nipomo taking on Arroyo Grande and Morro Bay reviving its series with San Luis Obispo.
With recent statewide budget cuts, Goossen said, such all-local arrangements — even if not traditional rivalries with built-in histories — make increasing sense economically. Harper said that philosophically he’d prefer to continue to schedule PAC 7 teams on a routine basis in the future.
“I’d absolutely like to,” he said. “They’re close, and they’re well coached.”
Last week, Arroyo Grande dominated Nipomo, getting out to a 35-0 first-half lead on the way to a 45-6 win.
“They’re a very good football team,” Harper said. “They have a lot of skill guys, and they’re big up front. They’re a well rounded team.”
Arroyo Grande’s rout of the Titans came on the heels of a season-opening 13-7 win over Lompoc, which, albeit vastly improved from 2009, finished last in the PAC 7 a year ago.
“I was certainly encouraged last week by what I saw,” Goossen said.
“But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that one game does not make a season.”