Atascadero High’s football team has a flair for the dramatic in big games.
The Greyhounds (4-2, 2-0 PAC 7) won 14-10 Friday in a home thriller against Arroyo Grande (3-2, 1-1) that came down to a fumble recovery by their defense in the red zone to seal the victory.
Last year, Atascadero relied on some fourth-quarter magic to beat eventual league co-champion St. Joseph 28-24 at home to kickstart a late season run that ended in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division semifinals.
But Atascadero has much bigger expectations this year than its 2-4 league record from 2012.
Trailing 10-7 at halftime, Atascadero quarterback Robbie Berwick gathered his teammates for a motivational speech before the kickoff that ended with “This is our year. This is our championship.”
After a slow start and no passing yards in the first half, Berwick didn’t disappoint in the fourth, connecting with Cooper Kuhnle on a 34-yard pass to set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Izaiah Cooks with 3:57 left.
The late drive was preceded by defensive back Louie Thek’s interception with 5:08 remaining near the Atascadero 30-yard line. After the catch, Thek bolted up the sideline and nearly broke loose for touchdown but was tackled about midfield.
“Louie Thek’s interception was the biggest play of the game, the biggest play of the season so far,” Berwick said. “I believe in our D. I’m so proud of our D. We got big plays when we needed them.”
Berwick finished 6-for-15 passing with 72 yards and no interceptions as well as 68 yards rushing. Cooks tallied a workmanlike 64 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns.
Cooks punched in a 1-yard run with 9:42 left in the second quarter to give Atascadero a 7-3 lead.
But for much of the game, it was a battle of field position as both teams struggled running the ball.
Mike Gutierrez was 12-for-17 passing for 148 yards with two interceptions and rushed for 45 yards, including a 22-yard scamper up the middle that put Arroyo Grande ahead 10-7 with 1:38 left in the first half.
Atascadero looked like it had the game in hand up 14-10 with about a minute left. But an Eagles player found a seam through the punt protection and blocked the kick by Tommy Carr to give Arroyo Grande the ball at the Greyhounds’ 31-yard line with 52 seconds.
Gutierrez led a drive down to the Atascadero 9-yard line with about 30 seconds left, balancing some short passing plays with some runs for small gains to put the Atascadero fans on edge.
But the senior quarterback lost the ball on a fumble after getting wrapped up at the 5-yard line, which led to a Greyhounds celebration one play later after the takeover.
“Mikey is a competitor,” Eagles coach Tom Goossen said. “He has done a great job for us all year. Things happen. That’s sports. Our guys fought hard tonight. It just didn’t go our way.”
Greyhounds coach Vic Cooper called his team’s defense “phenomenal” and credited Berwick for engineering the team’s scoring drive.
“They kept on pinning us back in our zone on punts,” Cooper said. “That made it tough for us to get going. But when Thek got the interception, that flipped the field position for us.”
Cooper said he thought of going for it on fourth down to close out the game, but decided against it when the punt was blocked to give the Eagles a final shot.
“I was definitely nervous there at the end,” Thek said of Arroyo Grande’s last push. “But I tried to keep calm and we got the big fumble recovery. We were all pretty happy after that.”