When Matt Willkomm moves his legs, he can be dangerous.
But the Arroyo Grande High quarterback might be at his best when he runs to set up the pass.
Willkomm used his scrambling ability to buy time in and out of the pocket in Friday’s 42-16 victory over Pioneer Valley in what was the senior’s finest passing game of his varsity career.
“He is very calm,” Eagles coach Tom Goossen said. “Not much rattles him, and he’s been able to do that all year. He’s had some pressure and still makes key throws and big throws. He’s impressed me every week.”
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Willkomm passed for a career-high three touchdowns, and Joe Gonzalez scored twice and had the team’s longest play from scrimmage of the season on a night where Panthers lineman Esteban Garcia left Doug Hitchen Stadium in an ambulance.
With 11:03 left in the fourth quarter and the outcome already decided, Garcia was injured blocking on a 12-yard run to the Eagles’ 44-yard line by Ernesto Barrera. At the tail end of the run, Garcia lay prone and face down in the grass with an apparent head or neck injury.
After a few minutes, game personnel were able to flip Garcia onto his back, where he remained until the paramedic unit loaded him on a stretcher and took him from the field. Garcia did appear to move his extremities, and the trip to the hospital was only a precaution, Goossen said.
“My heart goes out to that kid and Pioneer Valley,” Willkomm said, “because that’s sad. No one wants to see a kid get hurt and pulled out on a stretcher.”
Willkomm had left the game by then, already owning impressive numbers.
He had thrown for two touchdowns on two previous occasions — blowout victories over Nipomo and Templeton — in his first season as the starter. Never had he been this efficient.
Willkomm was 14-of-18 passing for 168 yards, completing seven of his first eight passes. He added 37 yards on six rushing attempts, but he did more damage when his scrambles allowed him to link up with open receivers.
He had touchdown strikes to Gonzalez, Sean St. Denis and Brennan Rivera and was not aware after the game that it was a new high for himself.
“I really don’t pay attention to that,” Willkomm said. “I really just pay attention to how the team plays. As long as we come out on top, I don’t care how I do. As long as we win, then it’s fine.”
The Eagles improved to 5-2 and 2-1 in PAC 7 play despite trailing for most of the first quarter.
The Panthers led 6-0 on a 10-yard touchdown run by Codie Corbin on the game’s opening drive. Corbin finished with a game-high 111 yards on 19 carries, slashing through the Arroyo Grande defense on a variety of toss and pitch plays.
But Michael Jordano responded with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Eagles the lead for good early in the second quarter.
Willkomm hit Gonzalez for a 31-yard touchdown and also found St. Denis for an 18-yard strike to give Arroyo Grande a 21-6 halftime lead.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Gonzalez took an end around from left to right and sprinted up the sideline for an 88-yard touchdown run.
“I can’t remember one longer, and it came at a good time,” Goossen said. “It set the tone for the second half and got us going in the right direction.”
By the time Willkomm hit Rivera on a 20-yard touchdown pass, Pioneer Valley (2-5, 0-3 PAC 7) was getting ready to put in its reserves.
The Panthers did get a 34-yard field goal from Castro Sal early in the fourth quarter, but when Pioneer Valley tried for the onside kick, Arroyo Grande defensive end Ian Mallott made a running recovery and ran 49 yards untouched for a touchdown.
Mallott also added a sack in the first quarter, his team leading fifth of the season and one of four by the Eagles on the night.