SANTA MARIA — Every bottle of Wite-Out runs empty eventually.
And the San Luis High football team’s mistakes Friday — on big-yardage plays especially — have the Tigers headed back to the supply closet losers of their PAC 7 opener.
A controversial pass interference call late in the fourth quarter might have been the final stroke of the brush for San Luis Obispo (2-1, 0-1 PAC 7), but there were plenty of other plays to lament in a 35-30 loss at St. Joseph’s Jay Will Stadium.
Arroyo Grande resident Scott Cusack had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for the Knights (2-2, 1-0 PAC 7) before adding the clinching 10-yard scoring run late.
St. Joseph receiver Zak Karsh had a 58-yard touchdown catch on a busted coverage play in the first half.
Knights tight end Ryan Mediano rumbled most of 58 yards after making a short catch to set up a 10-yard third-quarter touchdown run by Wesley Williams.
St. Joseph quarterback Curry Parham finished with 138 yards on 7-of-15 passing. All but 27 of those yards came on two plays.
If not for long ones, the Tigers might have had the 10-point halftime lead over the Knights instead of the other way around.
“SLO, they were pounding up the middle and we just couldn’t find something to stop it,” said Cusack, the younger brother of former St. Joseph and Cal Poly running back K.J. “And our morale was real low. We needed something to bump it up, bump up our energy, and those big plays are what did it.”
Still, after heading into the fourth quarter trailing 28-10, the Tigers nearly erased the entire deficit.
Quarterback Garrett Giovannelli had a 1-yard touchdown run, his second rushing score of the game, and Sawyer Scott added another 1-yard plunge to cut the lead to five points with 6:52 left in the game.
After a negative play, the Knights had a second-and-14 in their own territory with San Luis Obispo poised to get the ball back one more time. But on a passing play near midfield, the Tigers were flagged for pass interference on a ball senior captain Nick Hill nearly intercepted on a full-out dive.
Hill appeared to bump legs with the intended receiver coming back to a ball that only Hill could have caught, but there could have been contact by another San Luis Obispo defender that drew the penalty on the play, which happened near the Knights’ sideline.
“It looked to me like the guy coming over the top was the one who they called it on,” St. Joseph coach Dustin Davis said. “The guy who was diving was clearly going for the ball. It looked like the hit got there early.”
Tigers coach David Kelley said he did not get a good look at the play from the opposite side of the field, but the San Luis Obispo defense looked deflated after the yardage was assessed.
Williams, who finished with 100 yards on 16 carries, got nearly half of his yards charging up the middle after the pivotal call.
“The bottom line is we just can’t put ourselves in that situation though,” Kelley said. “To have the game that close to where the official can make the outcome, and I don’t know if he did or not because I haven’t seen it, but we just can’t let it be that close.”
San Luis Obispo’s last retort, a blocked punt and 35-yard touchdown return by Ted Martin with six seconds left only prolonged the inevitable as St. Joseph recovered an onside kick and took a knee on the final play.
Giovannelli finished 6-for-13 passing for 143 yards and ran 22 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns. The Tigers’ triple option was led by running back Nate Greenelsh, who had 96 yards on 12 carries and a catch for 30 yards.
The sophomore said he didn’t expect to be this big a contributor in his first varsity season, but he’s turning out to be one of San Luis Obispo’s fastest offensive threats.
“The older guys have kind of just acted as brothers, let me in and taught me how to run more and get hit harder,” Greenelsh said. Said Kelley: “The kids call him the future. He’s fast, and he works hard, and that’s a good combination. He plays the game right.”