Paso Robles High’s football team recovered a fumble on the first play of the game for a touchdown against Arroyo Grande on Friday.
That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the contest, which ended in a 20-10 victory for the Bearcats (7-2, 4-1 PAC 7).
More importantly, the win sets up a showdown in Paso Robles next week against Atascadero and gives the Bearcats a chance to share the league title with the Greyhounds, who are 5-0 in the PAC 7 after a win against San Luis Obispo on Friday.
Paso Robles’ win against Arroyo Grande (6-3, 3-2) came at a time when the Eagles appeared to be a team on the rise after a 31-6 rout of Righetti last week.
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And the Bearcats hadn’t played well the previous two games, losing 17-10 to St. Joseph on Oct. 18 in double overtime and squeaking past last-place Pioneer Valley 31-28 last week.
But they brought some tough tackling and a strong passing attack Friday to keep the Eagles defense on its heels.
Michael Horne recovered the fumble deep in Eagles territory and ran it in for a touchdown 10 seconds into the game. The fumble was set up by a big hit on a handoff.
Defensive intensity carried the Bearcats throughout. Bailey Gaither had a big interception on a throw to the end zone late in the third quarter to maintain Paso Robles’ 17-10 lead.
And Bryce Pasky kicked field goals of 34 yards and 42 yards in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, to keep Paso Robles on top.
“After we lost to St. Joseph, I said we have to climb back up, get back at it,” Paso Robles coach Rich Schimke said. “We haven’t played good football of late. Our guys believe, though. We played one heck of a team today. Arroyo Grande doesn’t give you much.”
Paso Robles was able to make big plays in its passing game, particularly a 45-yard completion from Gunnar Griffin to Gaither on a spectacular streak route in the second half.
Arroyo Grande covered Gaither well, but the Bearcats receiver, one of the fastest in the league, found a gap between two defenders and won the battle for the deep ball.
“This was a great win,” Gaither said. “This gives us a lot of momentum going into next week. It’s going to be fun (to play against Atascadero).”
Griffin was 16-for-23 passing for 164 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Schimke said Griffin has regained his confidence since suffering a shoulder injury earlier in the season.
For Arroyo Grande, Mikey Gutierrez threw for 82 yards on 16-for-29 passing and ran for
43 yards, including a 6-yard score to make it 10-7 Eagles in the second quarter.
Grant Alton led Arroyo Grande with 94 yards on 11 carries.
Eagles coach Tom Goossen said Paso Robles took advantage of its opportunities well, including the early fumble recovery.
“It was a lot about how well they played today more than it was about what we didn’t do,” Goossen said. “They played a heck of a game.”
Nathanial Harris ran for 51 yards for Paso Robles, and fullback Jimmy Pacheco ran for 30 yards and provided some key blocking to protect Griffin in the passing game.
“We came in knowing this would be a dogfight,” Pacheco said. “It also starts on the line. … In practice this week, we’ll work on discipline, not making mistakes, and working on what we didn’t do well tonight. It’s a rivalry game against Atascadero.”