Ready or not, league play starts tonight for Central Coast high school football. And judging by the first month of this season, most PAC 7 teams look ready.
No PAC 7 team has a losing record entering tonight’s games: Arroyo Grande (3-1) at Atascadero (3-1), Paso Robles (1-1) at San Luis Obispo (3-1) and Righetti (2-1) at St. Joseph (2-1). All are scheduled for a 7 p.m. start.
With three teams ranked in the top 10 of this week’s CIF-Southern Section Western Division poll (Arroyo Grande at No. 3, St. Joseph at No. 6 and Atascadero at No. 9), along with three others (Paso Robles, Righetti and San Luis Obispo) in the others-receiving-votes category, the PAC 7 again figures to be a force come playoff time.
“We went in with the mindset that (the nonleague season) was going to be a practice to prepare us for one of the toughest leagues in our division,” San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley said. “From this point on, it’s going to be last-man-standing.”
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Arroyo Grande entered the season as the favorite after making it to the divisional championship game in 2010. After stumbling out of the gate with a 38-28 home loss to Los Padres League heavyweight Lompoc, a game in which the Eagles squandered a 21-0 first-half lead, they’ve bounced back nicely, with a 31.3-point average margin of victory.
The Eagles have four highly publicized Division I college recruits in quarterback Brent VanderVeen (who has verbally committed to Oregon State), kicker Garrett Owens (committed to Air Force), outside linebacker Seth Jacobs and offensive tackle Garrett Weinreich (each of whom hold numerous Pac-12 scholarship offers). But their talent base doesn’t stop there, Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said.
“It’s not just the big four that everybody makes a big splash about,” Cooper said. “They’ve got a lot of great football players.”
In last week’s 56-21 rout of previously unbeaten Cabrillo, Arroyo Grande had by far its best performance on the ground so far, running for 480 yards as six different rushers had between five and 10 carries.
“They’ve done whatever they’ve wanted to in the preseason,” Cooper said.
The Greyhounds’ only setback this year was also a near-win, falling 7-0 at Clovis (4-0), CalPreps.com’s second-ranked team in the Central Section.
“You know they’re going to have a very strong running game, and they have a sophomore QB (Robert Berwick) who’s very athletic and is making a lot of great decisions with the ball,” Eagles coach Tom Goossen said. “And defensively, they’re very well-schooled, play with fundamentals and go to the ball hard. We know we’re going to be in a tremendous battle.”
After the Clovis shutout, Atascadero has trounced Independence of Bakersfield 34-6 and Seaside 49-7 in back-to-back weeks.
“We’ve made some progress,” Cooper said. “In the preseason, you just hope to get better week-by-week and try to come out healthy, and we’ve probably done both.”
Despite making the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, Arroyo Grande lost to Atascadero in both years, 37-14 in 2009 and 18-6 in 2010.
While multiple current Eagles played in those games, “I’m not sure I want them remembering what they did last week, much less last year,” Goossen said. “We’re focusing on the task at hand — not last year, not three weeks ago or four weeks ago. This team has to be focused on what we’re doing at this point, and I think our kids have done a tremendous job of that. This year has a whole new set of problems and opportunities.”
This week’s other matchup involving San Luis Obispo County teams is no less compelling.
For the second year in a row, San Luis Obispo’s triple-option offense has improved considerably. A year after the Tigers made immense strides, they’ve taken a few more steps forward, averaging 7.5 more points and 55.7 more yards of total offense per game this year than through the first four games of last season. Even so, Kelley sees more room for improvement, namely in ball security.
In last week’s 29-15 win over Morro Bay, the Tigers led 16-0 at halftime and after three quarters before the Pirates were able to cut into the lead late.
Paso Robles is somewhat more of a mystery thus far, having played the fewest games of any Central Coast team.
The Bearcats had a bye week Sept. 9, and saw their game scheduled for last week at Centennial of Bakersfield canceled because of lightning conditions in the area.
Kelley, though, said his team knows what they’ll be facing.
Last year, Paso Robles beat the Tigers 41-21, a game in which Elias Stokes scored five touchdowns. Now a senior, Stokes has gotten significant work at quarterback this season, in addition to receiver.
“What’s impressive is they’ve graduated so many seniors, but it doesn’t look like they’ve skipped a beat,” Kelley said. “We’re getting a defending PAC 7 league champion. We’re getting a CIF-Southern Section semifinalist. We’re getting a championship team coming to our house. I don’t need more film to tell me that.”