All four San Luis Obispo County PAC 7 football teams, along with league co-champion St. Joseph, earned bids to the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs when the draws were announced Sunday, the most of any league in the division.
“I think it says everything you need to know about our league when you have five teams from a seven-team league going into the championship,” Arroyo Grande High coach Tom Goossen said. “That’s how tough our league is and I think the CIF recognized that.”
Arroyo Grande is the only local team playing at home tonight when the Eagles host Hart at 7 p.m. San Luis Obispo, Atascadero and Paso Robles all play on the road.
“I said at the beginning of the season that I would be shocked if anyone in league went through undefeated,” Goossen said. “I would not have been surprised if the champion had two losses. That’s how tough it is.”
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The Eagles (8-2, 5-1), who earned the No. 2 seed and a share of the championship with a 28-24 win over San Luis Obispo last Friday, will host a first-round game for the second consecutive season.
“It was nice earning the share of the title,” Goossen said. “But we have to focus on the game at hand.”
After capturing the Western Division title last year, Arroyo Grande will open up against a tough Hart team, which was ranked as high as No. 1 in the division during the season. Two late losses to No. 2-seeded Valencia, which will host Paso Robles, and Canyon, which will host San Luis Obispo, dropped the Indians to a lower seed from the Foothill League.
“This team has shown an ability to do what needs to be done in order to win,” Goossen said. “The attitude hasn’t changed from the first week of practice until now.”
San Luis Obispo (6-4, 4-2) will face a stout Canyon team at 7 p.m. that finished second in the Foothill League, one spot ahead of Hart. The Cowboys feature a dynamic spread offense highlighted by senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, who set the California state record for career receiving yards in October. He has 76 catches for 1,109 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
“We’re going down to Canyon High School with the intention to be practicing next week,” San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley said. “The have a big-time spread offense that’s well balanced. Expect them to show up (tonight).”
The Tigers will be without arguably their most dynamic playmaker in senior quarterback Garrett Giovannelli, who suffered a right MCL injury against Arroyo Grande and is likely done for the year.
Backup Thomas Orradre, who led the San Luis Obispo to a victory over Oxnard in his lone start of the season, will lead the Tiger’s triple option against Canyon.
Both Paso Robles and Atascadero earned at-large bids, and the teams will be put to the test immediately when facing top seeds in Valencia (Foothill) and Palmdale (Golden League), respectively.
“We kind of had an idea that if we won last Friday, we stood a good chance of getting in,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke said. “The boys deserve a chance to play in the playoffs.”
The Bearcats (6-4, 3-3) are coming off of a dramatic 16-14 victory over the Greyhounds in which Atascadero missed a 42-yard field goal as time expired.
They now face Foothill League champion Valencia at 7 p.m., marking the third PAC 7 vs. Foothill matchup.
“It’s completely different styles,” Schimke said. “They’re very pass-happy, averaging over 300 yards through the air per game, and they score over 40 points a game. They are very aggressive defensively, they’re not giving up many points, and that’s why they’re ranked as high as they are. Larry Muir is doing a great job as a head coach over there. He always has.”
Paso Robles, like San Luis Obispo, may be without its starting quarterback heading into the playoffs.
Senior Garrett Nelson was knocked out of last Friday’s game after a big hit from Greyhounds linebacker Hunter Stemper that left Nelson feeling woozy. His status was described as “questionable” for a playoff game.
Atascadero (4-6, 2-4) will have to rebound against undefeated Palmdale (10-0), the Golden League champion, and sophomore running back Demario Richard, who has 1,722 yards and 24 touchdowns on 188 carries, a staggering 9.16 yards per rush. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Despite the loss to Paso Robles and losing records overall the PAC 7, Atascadero was rewarded with an at-large bid, giving the PAC 7 five teams with a shot at the title.
“Five is pretty crazy,” Greyhounds coach Vic Cooper said. “That’s why we weren’t prepared to be playing. [The kids] feel like they got a second life. After the loss on Friday we shut down for the year. I told them after the game we had virtually no chance.
“But they put us in in front of a couple fourth-place teams. We’re just excited that we get to practice for another week.”
While each team from the PAC 7 has a tough matchup in the opening round, the fact that the league could send all but two of its teams to the playoffs speaks to the level of the play in the area.
“We don’t have the top three teams in the division,” Schimke said. “But any team in our league, I thought, stood a decent chance of making the playoffs. There’s a lot of parity in our league.”