For a team that was the final team to make the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs Atascadero High’s football squad is opening some eyes.
The Greyhounds, a heavy underdog, upset Foothill League champion Canyon High in dominating fashion Friday, winning 30-14 at home.
Atascadero (6-6) entered the playoffs with a losing record as the fifth-place team in the PAC 7.
Now the Greyhounds are heading to the semifinals playing at home again next Friday against West High of Torrance.
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Against Canyon (8-3-1) — which beat San Luis Obispo High 42-9 last week — the Greyhounds played shut-down defense on a top-notch passing team and pounded the ball on the ground, racking up 243 yards rushing.
Included in that was a 65-yard rushing touchdown by running back Jonathan Torres, who finished with 126 yards carrying the ball on the night.
“We were all grateful to have the opportunity to play in the playoffs,” Torres said. “But once we got in, we wanted to take advantage. It was like getting a second chance.”
Canyon quarterback Cade Apsay came into the game with more than 3,000 passing yards this season, averaging about 290 yards per game.
But Apsay was largely contained on a moist night after rain off and on throughout the day. The Greyhounds defense broke up several passes and limited big plays all night.
Sam Neely picked off two passes, and Chase Young had one of the key plays of the game on a pick in the first quarter off a screen play.
Young ran back the interception 45 yards into the Cowboys’ red zone, setting up a 4-yard touchdown run by Ethan Hicks to put Atascadero ahead 15-0.
“We have a real confident defense right now,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “We did a great job of bumping their receivers off their routes and we made big plays in big situations.”
The first drives of the game started with tentative runs by both teams and a pair of three-and-outs.
The Greyhounds struck first with a 28-yard touchdown rush by Izaiah Cooks on a third down-and-long draw play. Cooks shifted his way through the first line of defense and broke free through the middle for the opening score.
Then after a penalty against Canyon, Torres took the ball in on a short 2-point conversion run to put Atascadero up 8-0.
The Greyhounds kept the pressure on with the interception by Young at midfield that helped them stun Canyon with a surprising 15-0 lead with four minutes left in the first.
All of the Greyhounds’ 120 yards of offense in the first half game on the ground.
Cooks, Torres and Ethan Hicks each rushed for more than 30 yards in the first half.
Throughout the first half, the Cowboys seemed reluctant to throw and primarily kept the ball on the ground.
On multiple occasions, Apsay’s main target, Liam Cabrera, who finished with 100 yards receiving, slipped on routes, sometimes after catches, hindering his chance at threatening the Greyhounds with long passing plays. At the half, the Greyhounds led 15-7.
In the second half, Cooper pulled from the same playbook of hammering the ball on the ground and playing solid defense.
Atascadero extended its lead to 22-7 early in the third quarter when Torres took an end-around and turned it into a spectacular 65-yard sprint along the right sideline for a touchdown.
Despite entering the game 5-6, the Greyhounds knocked off St. Joseph late in the season, which had been undefeated in the PAC 7 at the time. Then Atascadero shocked Palmdale, which had been 10-0, in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” said Atascadero quarterback Robbie Berwick, who passed for 51 yards and ran for 19 and had no turnovers.
“In practice and in our preparation, our focus has been on believing. I think we have our whole community believing in what we can do.”
In the semifinals, Atascadero will face West High of Torrance (9-3), which beat Mira Costa 49-42.