The guy who had the biggest game in one of Arroyo Grande High football’s biggest nights wasn’t quarterback Brent VanderVeen, all-purpose player Garrett Owens, lineman Garrett Weinreich or linebacker Seth Jacobs — four guys who will play at college football’s highest level next season.
It was Gabe Deleon, usually the smallest guy on the field.
No one else could match his night, which featured three touchdowns and 143 rushing yards in a 42-14 win over Culver City to lift the Eagles to the CIF-Southern Section Western Division championship — the school’s first since 1998 and fifth overall — on Friday night in front of a packed Doug Hitchen Stadium.
It’s also the first time a San Luis County team has won a title since San Luis Obispo did so in 2001.
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Most of the home crowd joined the Arroyo Grande players and coaches to celebrate afterward. Coach Tom Goossen walked around soaked in ice-cold water, thanks to a post-game celebratory shower. Players hugged each other, while some fought back tears. Others took pictures with ear-to-ear smiles.
Lost in the crowd was Deleon, the game’s biggest hero despite his 5-foot-7, 145-pound frame.
“Everybody knows about the four Division I guys,” Goossen said of VanderVeen (Oregon State), Owens (Air Force), Weinreich (Oregon State) and Jacobs (a Pac-12 recruit). “And who is the one that carries them at the end? Gabe Deleon, one of the biggest hearts on the team, one of the smallest bodies.”
That small body was an unstoppable and untouchable force in the second half. The Eagles only had a 21-14 lead at that point, enough for a pass-happy team like Culver City to come back.
But Deleon didn’t allow that to happen as he ran for touchdowns of 22 and 58 yards in the third quarter without any defender able to touch him to give the Eagles a 35-14 lead.
Deleon then had his third and final TD early in the fourth, capping a 28-0 run that started late in the second quarter.
“Gabe is an amazing athlete,” Owens said. “Hopefully people are knocking on his door, getting him to play football somewhere. He’s a one-of-a-kind athlete.”
After this night, some college football program just might.
The Eagles came into Friday with boulder-size expectations after advancing to last year’s division title game, only to lose 35-10 to a Serra team loaded with college prospects. The Eagles had high hopes, however, knowing that a good chunk of that year’s team would return.And those players, along with a slew of other contributors, lived up to expectations.
“I’ve been waiting for this since my freshman year. We have a ring. It’s a crazy feeling,” said VanderVeen, who completed 12 of 17 passes for 203 yards. He also rushed six times for 89 yards, including a 58-yarder that set up the team’s first score.
VanderVeen’s lone touchdown pass — a 76-yarder to Owens (four catches, 119 yards) late in the second quarter — started the 28-point rally.
Culver City, which came in as the division’s lowest seed, tied the score twice in the first half.
Grant Alton recovered a fumble in the end zone on Arroyo Grande’s opening drive to give the Eagles an early lead before Culver City’s Lukas O’Conner responded with a 3-yard score.
Henry Adelman (13 carries, 55 yards) then finished a 13-play, 79-yard drive with a 1-yard TD. But the Centaurs responded again, this time with a 3-yard touchdown run by Julius Wilson.
It didn’t matter. This was the Eagles’ night, as they went on to score touchdown after touchdown.
“This year’s been great, knowing that we’ve come back after the first loss of the season (to Lompoc) to put that behind us and come back all the way to the CIF final,” Owens said. “It’s the greatest high school feeling any kid can have.”
ARROYO GRANDE 42, CULVER CITY 14
Score by quarters:
Culver City 7 7 0 0—14
Arroyo Grande 7 14 14 7—42
AG — Grant Alton 0 fumble return (Garrett Owens kick) 10:14
CC — Lukas O’Connor 3 run (Ret Tilman kick) 1:37
AG — Henry Adelman 1 run (Owens kick) 8:51
CC — Julius Wilson 3 run (Tilman kick) 5:15
AG — Owens 76 pass from Brent VanderVeen (Owens kick) 2:43
AG — Gabe Deleon 22 run (Owens kick) 3:03
AG — Deleon 58 run (Owens kick) 1:26
AG — Deleon 15 run (Owens kick) 9:12
First downs 13 8
Rushes-yards 28-48 34-302
Passing yards 292 203
Passes 30-47-2 12-17-0
Total yards 340 505
Punts-avg. 7-29.8 5-30
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 4-40 5-40
RUSHING — Culver City: O’Connor 9-(minus-3), Akili Skannal 3-(minus-5), Kevin Porche 11-56, Ronald Jones 3-1, Wilson 2-(minus-1); Arroyo Grande: VanderVeen 6-89, Adelman 13-55, Deleon 11-143, Owens 3-13, Ciaran Costa 1-2.
PASSING — Culver City: O’Connor 24-39-2 253, Porche 6-8-0 39; Arroyo Grande: VanderVeen 12-17-0 203.
RUSHING — Culver City: Wilson 10-85, Jones 1-12, O’Connor 1-12, Porch 2-8, Jimmy Haywood 4-59, Michael Horchin 4-59, Alex Jackson 7-66; Arroyo Grande: Owens 4-119, Adelman 4-33, Jacobs 3-46, Ciaran Costa 1-5.