On a hot and sticky evening at War Memorial Stadium on Friday night, there was only one way Elias Stokes could feel after all he’d done.
“I’m just tired, really,” said Stokes, the Paso Robles High receiver whose monster game spurred the Bearcats to a 41-21 win over visiting San Luis Obispo in the PAC 7 football opener for both teams. “Yeah, it was a lot of running, but it was fun though.”
Stokes caught five passes for 165 yards, scoring on touchdown strikes of 8, 34, 35 and 75 yards, and had a notable contribution on special teams as well.
His 95-yard kickoff return to open the second half gave Paso Robles (2-2, 1-0 PAC 7) the two-score lead coach Rich Schimke was looking for to get some separation from the scrappy Tigers (2-3, 0-1 PAC 7), who showed marked improvement coming off a 62-7 blowout loss to the Bearcats last season.
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San Luis Obispo took a 7-0 lead to start the game before Paso Robles struck for two quick first-quarter touchdowns.
Utilizing a Cal Poly-inspired flexbone option offense, the Tigers threatened to tie the score at 21 going into halftime before a last-second drive stalled at the Bearcats’ 10-yard line as time expired.
Still, for all the improvement, San Luis Obispo had no answer for Stokes.
“Which number was he?” Tigers coach David Kelley asked, tongue in cheek. “I don’t remember him? Number five, Elias Stokes? The guy that had all the touchdowns? Yeah, he’s a good receiver.”
After scoring four touchdowns all of last year, Stokes has three times that many through just four games this season. In a 62-28 loss to Centennial Bakersfield last week, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior had eight catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns, not including the 87-yard kick return he had for a score.
Stokes said it hasn’t felt like much of a hot streak, considering Paso Robles came into the game just 1-2 with two lopsided losses.
Schimke was neither surprised by Stokes’ sudden breakout this season nor his frank feelings after having such a dominant game.
“He’s a special kid,” Schimke said. “He’s got a smile on his face all the time. It’s a game to Elias. He doesn’t make it any bigger than that, and that’s what I love about that kid. He’s humble. He’s like that in practice. He’s like that in life.”
On the strength of Stokes’ kick return, the Bearcats took a 28-14 lead into the fourth quarter. The Tigers cut the lead to 28-21 when receiver Mason Orradre made a diving left-handed catch for a 23-yard touchdown where he had to spin 180 degrees in midair to come back to a slightly underthrown ball by quarterback Anthony Maez.
Paso Robles responded with a 34-yard touchdown pass to a diving Stokes from quarterback Jacob Searcy, who was 12-of-18 passing for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Aleksander Koch hit Stokes for a 75-yard touchdown pass on a fake punt in the final minute for the final score.
It was a score that belied how competitive San Luis Obispo was and how much progress the Tigers have made in their second season under Kelley.
“Those guys are doing a great job with their players,” Schimke said. “You see it on film. They believe this year. They’ve got the right attitude, and the guys have bought into coach Kelley’s system.
“I think the first half, we were on the field (offensively for) six minutes, and they had 18 minutes worth of time. The big key at halftime was to get up two (touchdowns), and I didn’t expect to get it on a kickoff.”
The Tigers were led by fullback Vance Cramer, who had 154 rushing yards on 19 carries. Maez was in on all three San Luis Obispo touchdowns, scoring one on a 14-yard pass to Trevor MacLeod and another on a 14-yard option keeper.
Maez finished with 65 yards passing and 51 rushing.
San Luis Obispo just ended up kicking itself over the kick return allowed to Stokes — a lost fumble in the red zone midway through the third quarter and the missed opportunity to get points to close out the half.
“We believe truly,” Kelley said, “No one else in the county does, but we believe we’re a good team. Maybe some people do, I don’t know, but we truly do believe we’re a good team. We just can’t make those kind of mistakes to be a great team.