Three weeks ago, San Luis Obispo High experienced one of every football team’s worst nightmares.
Late in the fourth quarter of their season opener, the Tigers led 15-13 over Kingsburg, the defending CIF-Central Section Division 4 champion. On the final play of the game starting at their own 20-yard line, the Vikings’ Garrett Steele uncorked a desperate heave that was caught at the San Luis Obispo 40 by Taylor Abernathy, who got a crucial block and turned upfield for an 80-yard game-winning touchdown with no time left.
“Everybody just felt like we’d won the game,” San Luis Obispo quarterback Anthony Maez said of the mood following the play, which was featured on the front page of Yahoo.com for how out-of-the-ordinary it was. “That’s one of those plays where you just have to shake your head and be like, ‘Oh, man ’
“But the senior leaders, we just kind of came together and were like, ‘We’re not going to let it go down from here. We’re just going to come back stronger.’ ”
The Tigers (1-2) will look to continue to do that at 7:30 tonight when they visit Morro Bay (1-1).
“They’ve responded,” San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley said. “In order to be a good team, possibly a great team, you’ve got to learn how to deal with adversity.”
After the heartbreaker against Kingsburg, the Tigers pulled out a 27-20 win over Dos Pueblos, which earlier this year nearly beat last year’s PAC 7 champion, Righetti, in a 7-3 affair. An ensuing 34-27 loss at Oxnard last week came against running back Terrell Watson, whose 259 rushing yards per game rank second in the state.
“It’ll definitely help us going into the PAC 7,” Tigers linebacker Nick Butier said of their nonleague schedule.
Tonight’s game will mark the third straight year the two San Luis Coastal School District programs have played (they hadn’t from 2002 to 2007).
“It’s nice in the fact that it’s a meaningful preseason game,” Morro Bay coach John Andree said. “It’s a rivalry in the sense that it’s kind of bragging rights in our district.
“And as coaches,” Andree added, “we use it as a gauge. If we can compete with San Luis Obispo, we know we can compete in our league.”
The Pirates took last year’s meeting handily, 34-10, thanks in large part to then-junior quarterback Sam Crizer, who ran 20 times for a game-best 158 yards and a touchdown. Afterward, Crizer spoke at length about the community pride Morro Bay took in the win, given the schools’ close proximity.
“It’s pretty special,” Butier said. “All the kids, we know a couple we went to Laguna Middle School with.”
Crizer has been similarly dominant as a senior, rushing for 303 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries.
“He’s an all-county type of player,” Kelley said of Crizer. “It’s kind of hard to say you’re really going to completely contain those types of people.”
Morro Bay, coming off a 35-14 loss to unbeaten Fillmore, opens Los Padres League play Oct. 8 at home versus Santa Ynez. The Pirates were tied last week before giving up three unanswered touchdowns in the second half.
Morro Bay is looking for more consistency offensively and to not give up as many big plays on defense, Andree said.
A year ago, during a trial-run season with a newly installed triple-option offense (a misdirection scheme that relies on timing and anticipation), San Luis Obispo lost 17 fumbles and averaged 11.8 points per game.
Through three games in Year 2, after familiarizing themselves with the new-look backfield down to the program’s lower levels, the Tigers haven’t lost any fumbles and are averaging 23 points per outing.
“We have a good grip on it,” Maez said of the offense. “We weren’t as disciplined last year. You’re not going to see some of the same mistakes.”
Two of last year’s lost fumbles came in the loss to Morro Bay, and Kelley reiterated that ball security would again be a key issue.
“We’re putting up points, we’re moving the ball and we’re executing,” he said, “and yet there are still things we can improve upon.”