The PAC 7 championship couldn’t have been determined in much more dramatic fashion than it was in 2013, with longtime rivals Atascadero and Paso Robles highs battling it out in a double-overtime game that ended on a gutsy pass call on a two-point conversion.
The throw fell into the outstretched arms of Nick Ducasse, giving the Greyhounds the thrilling 22-21 victory and an undefeated league title.
Is the PAC 5 headed toward a similar fate?
If the preseason coaches poll is any indication — yes.
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Atascadero edged the Bearcats by a point in a poll that saw three teams secure at least one first-place vote.
“We have a really strong league this year,” Greyhounds senior Karson Block said.
“Paso’s always tough and (Arroyo Grande has) a really good team. You can’t really tell right now, but I think Atascadero-Paso is going to be another great game. I can’t wait for that one.”
The feeling is mutual a few miles up Highway 101.
“You always want to come back next year after a cold loss like that,” Paso Robles senior Jordan Burbank said. “It’s tough, but I think we’ll bounce back and get them this year.”
Both teams earned a pair of first-place votes. The Greyhounds finished with 21 points, the Bearcats 20, and Arroyo Grande — which got the final first-place nod — came in a close third with 19.
Righetti (nine points) and San Luis Obispo (six) were a distant fourth and fifth, respectively, but coaches were adamant that every team will prove to be a difficult out.
“San Luis is excited. They have a great young coach who is doing some great things there, and Righetti is always a sleeping giant,” Eagles coach Tom Goossen said. “There is no ‘OK, we can take this one off.’ It’s either play your best or lose.”
The Tigers have a new offense under first-year coach Pat Johnston, but the former Cal Poly player and coach isn’t expecting any of the tenured league coaches to be unprepared to face his spread look.
“I doubt that we’re going to take anybody by surprise just because there’s so much good, veteran coaching in this league,” Johnston said. “These coaches and programs that we’re going up against, it’s not like they haven’t seen what we’re going to do before.
“My hope is that we can come out and put our best product on the field. Play as hard as we can and let it fall where it may.”
Righetti was 5-6 overall and 3-3 in the PAC 7 this past season, returning quarterback Conor Regan (1,462 yards, 12 touchdowns, 8 interceptions), receiver Steven Spadarotto (31 catches, 469 yards) and safety Elijah Wilkinson (100 tackles).
Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said the condensed league schedule — four games in five weeks — increases the difficulty.
“It wasn’t easy before, but the shortened schedule adds some pressure to each game,” he said. “From top to bottom, there are no gimmies. I think Paso’s going to be phenomenal this year. A.G., their junior and senior classes have done really well. Righetti always has a stable of athletes, and San Luis is kind of the X factor.”
Paso Robles brings back the most starters from this past season, with 16 experienced players knowing returning talent means raised expectations.
“I think we all set ourselves with pretty high expectations,” said senior Josh Oliver, one of those coming back. “We just get the right mindset down and think about the first game, not the whole season.”
All five teams in the PAC 5 will face at least three other local teams in the nonleague portion of the season.
Goossen said the style of play on the Central Coast — not matter how talented the opposition is — makes for a fitting precursor.
“The football in the South might be more talented, but up here it’s more physical,” he said. “For us to come through this unscathed is a little bit more difficult.
“Generally speaking, it’s pretty tough-nosed football. It’s a challenge both mentally and physically.”