Given all the early-season success the Paso Robles High football team has had through the air, it might’ve been tempting for defenses to overlook the Bearcats’ running game.
Jesse Felgenhauer ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries Friday night at War Memorial Stadium to lead Paso Robles to a 35-10 PAC 7 win over Pioneer Valley.
“It’s nice to see the running game coming together,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke said. “The guys have been working hard up front.“The passing game helps open up the running game a little bit. You try to take what they give you.”
Never miss a local story.
The game was well in hand at halftime, with the Bearcats up 28-3, at which point Felgenhauer had already rushed for 128 yards and two scores on 16 attempts.
After getting out to the sizable lead, Paso Robles (5-2, 3-0 PAC 7), ranked No. 8 in this week’s CIF-Southern Section Western Division poll, substituted all over the field late.
“Our goal for today was to give our second- and third- stringers a chance to get some playing time and get some experience,” Paso Robles quarterback Jacob Searcy said, “and to let the guys who help us in practice and make us better get on the field.”
The wide gap on the scoreboard was in contrast to last week, when Paso Robles rallied from a 13-0 deficit to edge St. Joseph 21-20.
“I’m just glad that kids got to play tonight,” Schimke said. “There are a lot of kids that work hard every day that got to get out there and feel what it’s like (to be in a game situation).”
A week ago, Felgenhauer ran for a season-best 178 yards.
“Our line is doing a great job blocking for me and Jesse,” Searcy said.
While it may have been a comparatively quiet night for the Bearcats’ passing game, it was nonetheless an efficient one.
Searcy, who came into Friday third in the Western Division in passer rating, went 9 of 12 for 176 yards and a touchdown — a 75-yard bomb to 6-foot-4 receiver Aleksander Koch. Koch finished with three catches for 101 yards and the TD.
Bearcats junior Elias Stokes, the area’s leading receiver, had two catches for 34 yards, but more importantly, returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown — his 16th all-purpose TD of the year.
Stokes, who entered the game tied for fourth in the state in overall touchdowns among just receivers, also had a 73-yard punt return that was ultimately called back on a penalty.
For the Panthers (3-4, 0-3), a PAC 7 newcomer who graduated every starter of consequence from last year’s Los Padres League runner-up, Jason Espinoza was 10-of-22 passing for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Pioneer Valley running back Gabriel Fuentes caught six passes for 87 yards and ran for 33 yards on eight carries.
David Katz, Bo Bonnheim, Hunter Gay and Matt Sepulveda each had a sack for Paso Robles. Scott Plescia had two tackles for loss for the Bearcats, while Durrell Booker recovered a fumble.
Paso Robles’ two nonleague losses came 54-25 to Fresno Central (ranked No. 37 in the state by CalPreps.com) and 62-28 to Bakersfield Centennial (ranked No. 8).
“They’ve definitely seasoned us,” Schimke said of those nonleague games. “We got to see a lot with the teams that we faced in the preseason. Hopefully it’s toughened us up for what lies ahead.”
The Bearcats will visit Arroyo Grande next week before finishing up against Righetti and Atascadero.
“No easy breaks for us,” Searcy said of the remainder of the schedule. “It’s going to be really tough.”