After tonight, PAC 7 football teams should have a better idea of where their playoff chances stand.
For now, though, everything remains steeped in wide-ranging possibilities.
The main reason for such lingering uncertainty with only two weeks left in the regular season is the simple fact that only the top two finishers in the league standings will end up with guaranteed CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoff spots.
Divisional realignment this past offseason moved the PAC 7 from the five-league Northern Division into its new six-league home, which will have four at-large postseason spots. It’s likely the PAC 7 will receive at least one of those up-for-grabs entries, but nothing is for certain.
“There are too many scenarios to waste energy thinking about,” San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley said. “I said to the boys (earlier this week), everybody wants to go to the playoffs. Who wants to prepare to go to the playoffs? Who has the desire and the will to get there?”
At 7 tonight, Paso Robles (6-2, 4-0 PAC 7) will host Righetti (5-3, 2-2), Atascadero (7-1, 3-1) will visit Pioneer Valley (3-5, 0-4), and San Luis Obispo (4-4, 2-2) will travel to St. Joseph (3-5, 1-4). Arroyo Grande (7-2, 3-2) has a bye.
Paso Robles put itself in solid position last week by making a goal-line stand with under a minute to play in a 14-10 victory at Arroyo Grande.
The Bearcats don’t want to leave anything to chance, though. A year ago, they lost 22-16 to eventual league-champion Righetti, and in finishing 3-2 along with two other teams, were the first school to be left out of the playoffs because of a predetermined tiebreaking number draw.
That same tiebreaking system is still in effect this year: Two-way ties are broken through head-to-head outcomes, but three-way deadlocks are cleared up by the predetermined number system.
Atascadero has the best tiebreaking number this season, followed in order by Arroyo Grande, St. Joseph, Pioneer Valley, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Righetti.
“You look back at it, it kept us out of the playoffs,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke said last week of the Righetti loss a year ago. “They’re a very good football team.”
On Oct. 8, Righetti gave Atascadero its only defeat, 3-0, before losing its past two.
“They’re coming off a bye week, so they’ve (had) two weeks to prepare for us,” Schimke said.
Having said that, preparing for Paso Robles’ offense may have gotten a little more complex last week. While the Bearcats mostly relied on the more conventional aspects of their offense against Arroyo Grande — quarterback Jacob Searcy passed for 157 yards, and running back Jesse Felgenhauer ran for 167 yards — they also displayed something of a new dimension.
Star receiver and kick returner Elias Stokes, who has scored 18 all-purpose touchdowns on the season, not only took direct snaps and rushed for 54 yards and a TD on a season-high eight carries, but threw his first passes of the year, going 1 of 3 for eight yards with an interception. At one point, Stokes almost connected with a streaking Searcy down the right sideline for what would’ve been a 34-yard score.
“He’s a special athlete, there’s no doubt about it,” Schimke said of Stokes, an all-county honorable mention outfielder in baseball as a sophomore. “We’ll try to get him the ball as many ways as we can.”
Not to be outdone, Atascadero also came up with a key defensive stand late in the fourth quarter last week, pulling out a 13-10 win at San Luis Obispo.
The Greyhounds produced 233 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries, and defensively, posted a shutout over the final three quarters.San Luis Obispo almost scored a go-ahead touchdown in the waning moments, but a fourth-down pass was broken up.
It’s not the first time this season the Tigers have been faced with bouncing back from a heartbreaker. They lost their opener to Kingsburg, 19-15, on an 80-yard TD pass on the final play of the game but have not suffered back-to-back losses all year.
“You get knocked down, and you get back up and go back to work,” Kelley said.
St. Joseph, whose losses have come by an average of just 6.2 points per game, features an emerging star in junior quarterback Paul Avila, who’s completing 62.4 percent of his passes for nearly 175 yards per game.
“There’s no doubt they’re a good football team,” Kelley said, alluding to the Knights’ somewhat deceptive record after so many close losses.St. Joseph drubbed Pioneer Valley 41-13 a week ago, only allowing the Panthers to score in the fourth quarter.