If the Arroyo Grande High football team required any inspiration on bouncing back from adversity, it needn’t look further than senior defensive back Tyler Auerbach.
Auerbach tore each of the four main ligaments in his right knee in a game against Atascadero last season and returned six months later to play in a baseball game for the Eagles on the first day he gained medical clearance.
Fast forward to now, and with Arroyo Grande coming off a heart-breaking four-point loss to the Greyhounds in its PAC 7 opener last week, Auerbach spearheaded the defensive effort in a dominant 27-0 victory over St. Joseph (4-1, 1-2 PAC 7).
“I feel good,” Auerbach said. “I’m close. I’m not quite there yet, but I think I can get stronger and work hard in the offseason.”
Local doctors said it would take eight to nine months for him to return from his knee injury.
“Another doctor in Fresno said six months if I worked hard,” Auerbach said.
Guess what? He worked hard.
That much showed in a victory where Auerbach grabbed two interceptions, ran one back for a touchdown and dealt jarring hits to the Knights’ skill players.
He completely jumped a route that coaches warned him about at halftime for his second-half interception.
On his first pick, the Eagles (4-2, 1-1 PAC 7) harassed St. Joseph quarterback Curry Parham deep in his own territory, and after grabbing an errant pass, the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Auerbach ran it back 16 yards for a score that made it 17-0 midway through the second quarter.
“Tyler has been solid,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “He’s a three-year varsity starter, and he plays like it. There’s a calmness to his game, a calmness to how he approaches things that allows him to make plays that maybe others wouldn’t, and that interception was a case in point. He kind of laid in the weeds there a little bit and then got the pick and, fortunately for us, scored. That was a big score.
“He’s not very big, but he has excellent control of the body, and a lot of it is, he does a great job the weight room, and he brings a lot to the game that way.”
It was all part of a larger effort that effectively stymied the Knights’ offense.
St. Joseph, which opened the season 4-0, finished with six first downs. The Knights were fruitless on their first seven third-down conversion opportunities, a streak that stretched late into the third quarter.
St. Joseph finally converted a third down with 2:52 remaining in the third but ended up punting nine times and barely spent any time on Arroyo Grande’s half of the 50-yard line.
Parham, a senior quarterback and two-year starter who has attracted recruiting attention from mid-major Division I football programs, was 8 of 21 passing for 68 yards and finished with a team-high 24 rushing yards.
“I give all the credit to the coaches on the defensive side,” Goossen said. “They came out with a great plan to contain them, not give them anything over the top easy, and I think our pass rush created some problems. It was hard for him to set his feet on a lot of those throws.”
Arroyo Grande’s offense struggled early, too. Each team went scoreless in the first quarter.
The Eagles broke the deadlock with a 34-yard field goal by Cole Ramey, who also pinned St. Joseph inside its own 5-yard line with a couple of nice punts, but they didn’t score again until Michael Jordano punched in a 1-yard run with 24 seconds left in the first half.
Arroyo Grande’s offense stayed quiet until Grant Alton caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Mikey Gutierrez early in the fourth quarter, and Ramey added a 27-yard field goal to cap the scoring with 3:34 left.
Sophomore fullback Joe De La Rosa had team highs with 16 carries for 90 yards. Alton ran 11 times for 63 yards, and Gutierrez was 11-of-18 passing for 69 yards and a touchdown.
But the story was the Eagles defense, which appeared fully prepared early on and only got better against the Knights’ spread offense as the game progressed.
“We knew that if it was third-and-long, they were going to come out passing,” Auerbach said. “We knew we could make an adjustment on third down and expect a pass, so we did a pretty good job, jumped a couple routes and made some plays on third down.”