There were no Friday night lights. There were no marching band fight songs, cheerleader routines or drama club halftime performances, either.
Saturday’s matinee between host Arroyo Grande High and Atascadero was football stripped to its core and, a day later than initially thought, the two PAC 5 rivals put on the fundamentally sound performances spectators have grown accustomed to seeing these squads play.
Alex Cecchi rushed for 144 yards and three scores, Sam Coleman topped 100 yards receiving, and the hometown Eagles, helped by a 15-play clock-killing final drive, put themselves right back in league championship contention with a 35-21 victory over the visiting Greyhounds.
“Our kids have played hard this whole year,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said, “and this just exemplified that effort.”
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After Atascadero junior Marc Martin went on a dazzling, hurdling 25-yard touchdown run to pull his team within seven points with 7:44 to play, the Eagles went to work from their own 12 in a position strangely similar to the one they were in against Paso Robles three weeks ago.
But while Arroyo Grande committed a costly turnover in that instance en route to a one-point loss, the Eagles didn’t let Atascadero touch the ball again until the game was decided in their favor.
Arroyo Grande’s drive chewed up 7 minutes, 4 seconds of clock time, with Jordan Harrigan taking a screen pass 22 yards to convert a key third-and-9 play and then finishing it off with 40 seconds left on the clock on a 3-yard scoring plunge.
“It’s just Eagle ball, working harder and harder each and every day and each and every week,” said Harrigan, a senior who finished with 86 yards on nine carries and added 30 receiving yards. “That’s just all we can do.”
The other crucial play of the drive came on a fourth-and-3 from Atascadero’s 17 with 2:11 remaining, when quarterback Sawyer May successfully drew the Greyhounds offsides with a hard cadence — all but ending any chance of Atascadero getting the ball back with much time to spare and a one-possession game.
Goossen said the plan was to try and get the offsides call before taking a timeout.
“We probably would have kicked a field goal,” he said, “but no guarantees there.”
Added Atascadero coach Vic Cooper: “You always expect that in that situation.”
May was 14-of-18 passing for 152 yards, including a 31-yard connection with Coleman two plays after an Atascadero missed field goal that helped set up Cecchi’s third score to make it 28-14 early in the fourth.
Martin finished with 111 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries for the Greyhounds on a day when footing was not a sure thing given the rainfall that pummeled the field the night before.
After a stadium-wide blackout due to a blown transformer forced the game to be postponed from Friday’s 7:30 p.m. scheduled kickoff, Arroyo Grande softball coach John Welch arrived at the field at 5:30 a.m. Saturday to assess the damage and pump water from the playing surface.
By the time the rain ceased, the sun came out and the 1 p.m. kickoff arrived, the field was in far better shape, although there were still some slipups.
“It was pretty slippery,” Martin said. “You couldn’t really get off the ball without sliding.
“Offensive-wise, it was a tough game. My line did block well, there just wasn’t a lot of openings.”
Despite being outgained 473-258 in total yards and having 19 fewer first downs (32-13), the Greyhounds could have made it an even closer game if not for two failed trips inside the Eagles 10-yard-line.
The first time, with five seconds remaining in the first half and the score tied 14-14, Atascadero opted to run one final play rather than attempt a 22-yard field goal. Quarterback Tommy Carr, who finished 5-of-10 passing for 69 yards with an interception, faked a handoff to Martin left and tried to run right, but was stopped at the line of scrimmage.
“They’re going do the right thing every time, and you can’t catch them on things,” Cooper said of the Eagles. “A few times, we thought we were going to catch them on things, but we didn’t. It just seemed they were always in the right spot at the right time.”
Benny Willkomm intercepted Carr to open the second half and Cecchi followed with his second touchdown of the game — a 20-yard scamper untouched on the left side to make it 21-14. The Greyhounds drove deep into the red zone again on the strength of five rushes for 49 yards by backup running back R.J. Reusche, who took the ball to the 2-yard-line.
Facing third-and-goal, Atascadero was moved back to the 7 on a false start, and a shovel pass to Karson Block yielded only 2 yards. This time, Atascadero elected to kick, but sophomore Logan Armstrong pulled his 22-yard attempt wide left.
“They got their breaks and took advantage of them. We got our breaks and we didn’t, so I think that was the difference,” said Cooper, whose team forced two fumbles. “You rarely see them make mistakes, and when we got them to make two or three mistakes, we didn’t capitalize.”
The Greyhounds (7-2, 2-1), who had won four straight, end the regular season Friday at home versus Paso Robles (9-0, 3-0) in their annual rivalry matchup. An Atascadero win could force a three-way tie atop the PAC 5 standings.
“The message in the locker room is that next Friday night we’re playing for a league championship,” Cooper said. “I’m sure we’ve got the Eagles rooting for us.”
For Arroyo Grande (7-2, 2-1), Goossen said the focus turns solely to the regular season finale against San Luis Obispo (2-7, 0-3).
“I don’t root for anyone,” he said. “I just worry about San Luis next week. That’s my main concern.”