Four county PAC 7 football teams are playing tonight with a lot on the line, making for some highly anticipated action on the gridiron to close out the regular season.
Reigning league champion Arroyo Grande High (7-2, 4-1 PAC 7) will face off at San Luis Obispo High against the Tigers (6-3, 4-1) with the winner to grab a share of the league title with St. Joseph.
Both local teams have guaranteed CIF-Southern Section playoff spots by placing in the top three in the league, along with the Knights.
In Atascadero, the Greyhounds (4-5, 2-3) will butt heads with Paso Robles High (5-4, 2-3) with the winner to take fourth place in the PAC 7 and a chance at an at-large CIF-Southern Section playoff berth.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” said Tigers coach David Kelley. “There’s nothing like playing for a co-championship of the league against the reigning champion.”
The matchup in San Luis Obispo features two teams with high-powered offensive attacks — the Eagles average about 339 net yards per game and the Tigers about 350, including about 290 rushing, according to the MaxPreps.com.
Each squad racks up more than 30 points per game on average led by explosive quarterbacks in San Luis Obispo’s Garrett Giovannelli and Arroyo Grande’s Matt Willkomm.
Giovannelli is coming off a game against Atascadero in which he ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 116 yards.
Willkomm threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 84 against Paso Robles, willing his team to victory by scoring on a 9-yard run for the game-winner in overtime.
Willkomm has thrown for 14 touchdowns and only one interception on the year.
His counterpart, Giovannelli, is a constant threat of making the big play with runs of 90, 55, and 69 this season in the Tigers’ triple-option offense.
Kelley credits the leadership of a core group of seniors for a turnaround in the Tigers’ season after the 35-30 loss to St. Joseph that dropped their record to 2-3 to start the season.
The Tigers have won four since, including a commanding 31-14 win last week against Atascadero.
“After that St. Joe’s game, our seniors really took it upon themselves to get it done,” Kelley said. “They didn’t want to feel that pain again.”
Kelley said that of late his team has executed well, minimized turnovers and controlled the clock.
As much as the Tigers dominated their last contest, the Eagles had to struggle to squeak out an overtime win that easily could have gone to Paso Robles.
Still, Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen liked the way his team fought in the game.
“What we did well was compete,” Goossen said. “It was a slugfest and it came down to the last man standing. But we’re going to have to play a lot better against SLO to win.”
Goossen said that his team will have to try to contain a Tigers’ offense in which multiple players run the ball very well, starting with Giovannelli.
“They’re very capable of big plays and long drives,” Goossen said. “We’ll do our best to stay in the game against them.”
PAC 7 coaches expected this season to be competitive, and the game in North County pits two hungry teams against each other, vying to keep their postseason hopes alive.
In the Northern Division, three teams from each of the four leagues earn playoff berths. The final four berths are at-large selections. A win by Paso Robles or Atascadero would bolster an argument for a postseason spot.
The Bearcats accumulated 454 yards on offense against Arroyo Grande last week and dominated defensively in the second half, holding the Eagles scoreless until overtime.
“We’re peaking,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke said. “We played our best game of the season last week. Unfortunately, it didn’t show on the scoreboard.”
Paso Robles running back Colton Madrigal was the battering ram for the Bearcats, tallying 204 yards on tough drives, carrying his team on his back in the final minutes of regulation on an 84-yard drive of all run plays.
Goossen credited the Bearcats’ offensive line for wearing down the Arroyo Grande defense at the end of the game.
Schimke said tonight’s matchup against Atascadero will be hard-fought, as many of the PAC 7 battles are.
“We hit each other in the mouth,” Schimke said. “This game will have no secrets.”
For Atascadero, coach Vic Cooper said that a win would put his team in a decent position at making the playoffs.
“Teams in other leagues would have arguments, too,” Cooper said. “But I think the PAC 7 is deep and the fourth-place team will have a good shot.”
Perhaps its strongest argument, should the Greyhounds come out victorious, is their 28-24 win against St. Joseph late two weeks ago where they came from behind and scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Robbie Berwick had a standout game against the Knights, throwing for 158 yards and leading his team to victory with a game-winning touchdown pass to Wayde Vierra.
Izaiah Cooks had 120 yards on the ground against St. Joseph and had touchdowns rushing and receiving.
Cooper said that he likes the way his defense is playing and against San Luis Obispo, they kept the pressure up for the most part. But his squad allowed some big runs that hurt them in the 31-14 defeat.
“We know that Paso Robles likes to line the ball up and ram it down your throat,” Cooper said. “But then if you load the box, they’ll throw the deep ball. That will be our challenge on defense (tonight).”