Atascadero High football coach Vic Cooper has said he has added confidence in his passing game this season.
It looked every bit justified Friday night, as Greyhounds senior quarterback Jesse Whitten went 11-of-17 passing for 219 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions (one of which was tipped) in an 18-6 win at Arroyo Grande in the PAC 7 opener for each team.
Whitten’s scoring strikes went for 53 and 77 yards, both to junior receiver Logan Sprouse, who finished with four catches for 155 yards.
“The line’s blocking better than I’ve ever seen,” said Whitten, a second-year starter. “They’re just giving me a bunch of time, and me and Logan, we were working hard all summer to get better for this year.”
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The Greyhounds even got 38 yards on a trick play in which tight end Weston Walker, after picking up a well-placed Whitten lateral behind the line of scrimmage, threw downfield to running back Tanner Thompson.
“It’s a good threat,” Whitten said of the recent aerial success by the program that’s traditionally run-heavy. Whitten came into the game passing for nearly 54 more yards per contest than he did as a junior.
Both schools entered 4-0 and averaging margins of victory between 25 and 27 points per game. Arroyo Grande came in ranked No. 6 in the CIF-Southern Section Western Division poll, with Atascadero No. 8.
“It’s a long journey; we’re only halfway through the regular season,” Cooper said. “It’s a short-lived celebration.”
Cooper good-naturedly dubbed next week’s opponent, Righetti, a “nemesis,” as in the past few years, the Warriors have posed unique problems for Atascadero. The Greyhounds claimed three straight league titles from 2006 to 2008 before ceding the crown to Righetti last year.
Thompson ran for a game-best 92 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries Friday and also caught three passes for 53 yards.
The Greyhounds had two first-half touchdowns called back on penalties and finished penalized seven times altogether.
“We left a few scores out on the field,” Cooper said, “and that’s going to come back to haunt us later. We got away with it (Friday), but you leave two touchdowns and a couple field goals out there, it’s going to hurt you in the future.”
Additionally, the Eagles’ lone score — a 5-yard pass from Brent Vanderveen to Kelly Shepard in the third quarter — came after a penalty negated what had been a chip-shot field-goal lined up for Arroyo Grande.
Atascadero’s defense effectively stifled Arroyo Grande, holding the Eagles to 163 yards of total offense.
Greyhounds senior cornerback Troy Norris had an interception, his area-leading fifth of the year, and also recovered a fumble.
“They seemed to make the big plays when it counted, and we had a few turnovers that hurt us,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said.
Davis Cracknell had three sacks for the Greyhounds, and Sprouse also had an interception.
Christian Crichton led the Eagles with 54 yards on 14 carries. L.T. Johnson and Garrett Owens each had four catches for Arroyo Grande; Johnson for 49 yards and Owens for 43. Caleb Evans and Seth Jacobs both had an interception in defeat, while Aaron Ley had a sack.
“Our defense did an outstanding job,” Goossen said. “We just weren’t able to move the ball consistently on offense, which put our defense on the field too much.
“It’s one of those games where you lick your wounds. I have all the confidence in the world in these kids in the future. This is a tough one to swallow, but that’s what sports does, and you’ve got to rebound from these things.”
Atascadero starting lineman Dimitri Cullors suffered a dislocated-knee injury that stopped play for about 10 minutes before he was carted off in an ambulance. A timetable for his return was uncertain immediately after the game.