Nobody would accuse Atascadero High football coach Vic Cooper or his Arroyo Grande counterpart Tom Goossen of trying to reinvent the wheel.
Both know what has made his program successful, and neither plans on veering from that formula anytime soon.
For the Greyhounds, it’s the ability to run and stop the run.
For the Eagles, it comes down to depth and balance on both sides of the ball.
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The two teams and their steadfast strategies collide tonight at Doug Hitchen Stadium in a PAC 5 showdown whose kickoff was moved back to 7:30 to accommodate an online stream provided by Fox Sports Prep Zone.
“Certainly, this is a big game for us, but they all are,” said Goossen, whose Eagles rebounded from an agonizing loss to Paso Robles in their league opener to stifle Righetti last week. “... We have to bring our A game. If we do that, then more often than not, we’ll be successful.”
Arroyo Grande (6-2, 1-1) brought its A game for the majority of that matchup with the Bearcats on Oct. 10, but a 17-point lead fell by the wayside and was completely squandered when Bailey Gaither scored on a 70-yard fumble recovery and converted the subsequent two-point conversion to give Paso Robles an improbable 28-27 win.
The Eagles had two weeks to stew on the defeat, with their bye week the following Friday, and returned to the field last week with a determined four-quarter effort, shutting out the Warriors until the final seconds of a 30-7 victory.
“I had no doubt what our effort would be like given as hard as our kids played in that Paso Robles game and how they’ve played all year,” said Goossen, as his team recorded four interceptions — three by Bradley Mickey to give him a Southern Section-leading eight — in moving to 5-0 at home. “There hasn’t been a game this year where I’ve thought, ‘Jeez, these kids weren’t ready or don’t have the willingness or effort.’
“It wasn’t a surprise they were ready, even after that heartbreaking loss.”
The Eagles were ready and were back to playing Arroyo Grande football.
Six players had at least two rushes — all told 10 ran the ball — as the Eagles averaged 5.0 yards per rush to total 233 yards on 47 carries. Junior Alex Cecchi led the way with 16 carries for 90 yards, and bruising classmate Joey DeLaRosa added 10 carries for 65 yards and a pair of short-yardage scores.
Sophomore quarterback Sawyer May also threw for 232 yards and a touchdown, connecting with five different receivers.
Defensively, Arroyo Grande held Righetti quarterback Conor Regan to 8-of-18 passing for 109 yards and those four interceptions, and just 141 team rushing yards — led by sophomore linebacker Sam Ness’ team-high 10 tackles.
In ranking players on a scale of 1 to 10, Cooper said the Eagles and Greyhounds have a lot of players with similar skill sets.
“That’s the way they’ve always played,” Cooper said. “Some years they’ve had some nines and 10s, but traditionally, they are a lot like us — a lot of sevens and eights and they spread them all over the field. They all share duties and not one player stands out much higher than the rest.”
As per usual, it is the ground game that’s being pacing Atascadero (7-1, 2-0), including last week’s 41-24 win at San Luis Obispo in which the Greyhounds spoiled the Tigers’ homecoming by rushing for 422 yards on 48 carries.
Junior Marc Martin, who returned from an ankle injury the week prior, rushed 26 times for 221 yards and three scores and classmate R.J. Reusche, also coming off an injury, added 134 yards and two scores on 11 carries.
“Some nights, your running game is going so well that you don’t have to throw,” said Cooper, who needed quarterback Tommy Carr to throw only eight times. “If we have the ability to keep running, we’ll keep running. He’s had some darn good passing nights, too.”
Goossen made it clear he’s wary of Carr’s ability to both throw and run the ball.
“People forget they have an outstanding quarterback who can deal the ball as well as scramble effectively when he needs to,” said Goossen of Carr, who is averaging 124.9 passing yards and 50 rushing yards per game. “He possesses a lot of problems for any defense, and you couple that with the traditional Atascadero power offense — that’s what they’ve been known for.”
Not to be forgotten are the guys creating the holes and winning the battles at the line of scrimmage, and both coaches said their offensive lines have helped key their good starts.
Veteran center Tyler West and fullback Ethan Hicks have brought along a blocking group that was otherwise inexperienced heading into the season for the Greyhounds. Cooper said senior Mckay Richey and juniors Kevin Blodget, Brian Woodard and Kyle Townsen have held their own and are improving daily.
Nathan Pino, Josh Day, Drew Breuninger, Gavin Angello and Josh Domako have been plowing the road for their Eagles. Goossen said 6-foot-1, 305-pound junior Daniel Shiraishi is dealing with an injury, but has the ability to play along the offensive line and as a gap-plugging nose guard when healthy.
“I’m not too sure there’s ever a time (the line of scrimmage battle) is not a point of emphasis,” Goossen said. “Whether you’re talking modern day or 40 or 50 years ago, the team that can control the line of scrimmage is going to have the most success.”