Pick a stat, any stat — it will help tell the story of the Templeton High football team’s resurgence from a one-win 2013 to 6-1 so far in 2014, riding a six-game win streak into tonight’s Clash on the Coast against Northern League rival Morro Bay.
Passing yards per game: 31.8 in 2013. In 2014? 185.8.
Rushing yards per game: 54.3 in 2013. In 2014? 224.3.
Points allowed per game: 32.7 in 2013. In 2014? 26.4.
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Points per game: 7.4 in 2013. In 2014? 36.3.
“It’s been a little bit of everything,” Templeton coach Dan Loney said of the turnaround. “But the biggest thing is the players’ attitude toward the offseason program. They didn’t like the way that season ended.”
The way it began wasn’t much better, either.
The Eagles opened 2013 by losing their four nonleague games by a combined score of 145-0. They won a 13-6 Los Padres League game against lowly Santa Maria before ending the year with four more consecutive defeats.
So in the months to follow, while the incoming senior class implored the rest of the team to dedicate themselves to the weight room, Loney and his coaching staff scrapped the double-wing offense they thought would take advantage of their talents and got to work implementing a spread scheme that still stuck to their run-first roots.
What resulted was a set of new formations and plays that got speedsters — such as senior Christian Hauser — the ball in space as well as power runners — like sophomore Nate Avery — running downhill toward the hole.
Add Bryson Messer, who leads the team with 380 rushing yards, reliable receivers Scott Rigdon and Avery Shannon, and quarterbacks Jordan Bernal and Gunnar Griffin, and suddenly Loney has a bevy of options at his disposal with an offense to utilize them in.
“I thought I had an offense (last year) that fit the kids and it just didn’t,” the coach said. “But one of the things we didn’t necessarily have is the luxury of going multiple places with the ball.
“We don’t have many 100-yard rushers in our games (this year), but we still run in the high (200s) and low (300s). Same thing in the passing game; everyone has three or four catches.”
Templeton (6-1, 1-0 Northern League) was blasted at home, 66-27, in the season opener against traditionally strong Bakersfield Christian, but Hauser’s 90 rushing yards, Rigdon’s 85 receiving yards and the 27 points were a sign of things to come.
“Credit to the kids’ stubbornness,” said Loney, as his team followed the loss with six straight wins. “I guess it comes back to what they set in January to change the trend. Things were going to go bad, and instead of hanging your head, you fight to the end.”
The Eagles will line up tonight across from a team facing a similar choice.
Morro Bay (2-5, 0-1) entered last week’s league opener against Nipomo coming off a tough nonleague schedule that included undefeated teams in Lompoc and Paso Robles and one-loss Atascadero.
The Pirates shut down the Titans’ high-octane offense for the entire game — which included holding Nipomo to just 2 rushing yards on 31 carries — but gave up a long touchdown pass on fourth down in the final minute to lose 15-14.
“It was very demoralizing, and it still is,” Morro Bay coach Jack Greer said. “I’ve been in many close games that have gone either way, and that was probably the most disappointing loss I’ve ever been associated with — just because of the way it happened and how well we played.”
Greer said his defense did a great job showing multiple fronts and packages — plus a lot of “window dressing” — to slow down an attack that had scored 34 points against Lompoc, 21 versus Atascadero and 27 against Arroyo Grande.
“Our guys did a phenomenal job of executing,” Greer said. The Titans “have a very complex offense, but I just feel very comfortable with my players trying to neutralize what teams like that want to do against us.”
The Pirates scored their 14 points in the first half before starting quarterback Isaac Manaputy left with a neck injury.
“Then we struggled for the remainder of the game,” Greer admitted.
Manaputy, a junior, and senior running back Will Unks have been the featured backs in a new offense that, like Templeton’s, likes to spread the field to give its runners space.
Greer said it’s unclear yet if Manaputy will be healthy enough to play tonight, or if the Pirates will have to turn to backup Anthony Hazel.
Morro Bay has had the upper hand of late in the Clash of the Coast rivalry, winning the split-helmet trophy the past two years with a 13-6 victory last year and a 48-24 triumph in 2012.
Overall, however, the matchup has been a close one.
Since it became an annual game in 2006, the Pirates have won five of the eight matchups, but have only outscored the Eagles by a total of 200 to 192.
Those figures average out to a score of 25-24 per game — a final neither side would be surprised to see this time around.
“We’re telling our kids that you can go 6-4 and not make the playoffs. This is where it really counts,” Loney said. “What we’ve done before is nice and great, but if we want to make it to the playoffs, we’ve got to go through these guys.”