Seven of the eight county 11-man high school football teams have qualified for the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. Here is a look at each of tonight’s matchups:
THOUSAND OAKS (7-3) AT ATASCADERO (8-2), 7 p.m.
How they got here — Thousand Oaks: The Lancers head to Atascadero as an at-large team out of the Camino League, having gone 1-2 in league play with a 24-7 win over fellow at-large Camarillo and losses to league champion Newbury Park (55-35) and Paso Robles’ first-round opponent, Simi Valley Royal (24-21). The Lancers are 4-0 on the road this year. Atascadero: The Greyhounds went 3-1 in PAC 5 play, beating previously unbeaten rival Paso Robles in the final game of the regular season to force a three-way tie atop the league standings. Atascadero benefited from a preseason draw to earn the league’s top seed in the playoffs. The Greyhounds entered the PAC 5 schedule with wins over playoff-bound teams Nipomo (35-21) and Pioneer Valley (42-13). The Greyhounds beat Righetti (35-21) and San Luis Obispo (41-24), and bounced back from a 35-21 road loss to Arroyo Grande with the 28-18 upset over Paso Robles to finish the regular season 5-0 at home.
Players to watch — Thousand Oaks: Junior QB Max Gilliam is completing a shade less than 70 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,594 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His main target has been senior Andrew Lachina, who has reeled in 60 catches for 971 yards and nine scores. Wade Cookus has 18.5 tackles for a loss, including six sacks. Atascadero: Running back Marc Martin is the feature back in the Greyhounds’ clock-controlling rushing attack with 1,205 yards and 14 touchdowns, including performances of 100 or more yards in each of the past five games. Wideout Cooper Kuhnle is always a threat to take a sweep or a kickoff the distance, and with a team-high 94 tackles, Nick Ducasse leads an experienced linebacking corps that includes fellow seniors Ethan Hicks and Karson Block.
ROYAL (4-6) AT PASO ROBLES (9-1), 7 p.m.
How they got here — Royal: Despite a sub-.500 record overall and in league (1-2), the Highlanders come into the playoffs as the Camino League’s second seed by virtue of a tiebreaker over Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. Royal opened league play with a 24-21 win over Thousand Oaks, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and holding on to score the upset. The Highlanders then fell 42-14 to Newbury Park and 34-28 to Camarillo. Paso Robles: The year began with senior linebacker Jonathan Baldwin returning two interceptions for touchdowns in a 48-30 win at Clovis, and much of the regular season was more of the same — big plays and loads of points. The Bearcats have outscored opponents 419-172, including six by four touchdowns or more. The regular season ended with a 28-18 Week 10 setback to Atascadero.
Players to watch — Royal: Senior RB River Meza is averaging 152.5 yards rushing per game with 15 TDs, while junior quarterback Matt Sciumbato has thrown for 1,368 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions — seven of those scores have been caught by Ryan Pench. Paso Robles: Sophomore RB Christian Erickson missed the Atascadero game with an apparent lower leg injury, and if he’s able to play tonight, he brings balance to an offense featuring 1,000-yard receiver Bailey Gaither and big-bodied tight ends Jonathan Baldwin and Josh Oliver.
ARROYO GRANDE (8-2) AT NORDHOFF (6-4), 7 p.m.
How they got here — Arroyo Grande: The Eagles opened with a seven-point loss to Lompoc before five straight wins, including a 24-21 last-minute win over Liberty. The PAC 5 schedule began with a 28-27 loss to Paso Robles in which Arroyo Grande led by 17 in the second half, followed by wins over Righetti (30-7), Atascadero (35-21) and San Luis Obispo (53-14). Nordhoff: The Rangers endured a rocky preseason with a narrow win over Channel Islands (17-12) before losses of 42-10 to both Lompoc and Paso Robles at home. But Nordhoff rebounded to go 3-0 in the Tri-Valley with wins over Carpinteria (30-0), Fillmore (28-0) and previously unbeaten Bishop Diego (35-14).
Players to watch — Arroyo Grande: Sophomore quarterback Sawyer May has taken care of the football, throwing just one interception against 19 touchdowns and a 65.5 percent completion rate. As teams throw away from Bradley Mickey and his eight interceptions, fellow junior Benny Willkomm has picked off seven of his own. Nordhoff: Senior slotback Baylee Rogers scored three times in the upset win over Bishop Diego in which the Rangers held the Cardinals to just 110 rushing yards. The Rangers are in their first season under coach Erik Monson, a former Cal Lutheran assistant taking over for former San Luis Obispo High assistant Tony Henney, who left to coach at Trabuco Hills.
HERITAGE CHRISTIAN (6-4) AT TEMPLETON (8-2), 7:30 p.m.
How they got here — Heritage Christian: The Warriors finished 2-2 in the Olympic League to earn an at-large berth, winning at home against Village Christian (45-28) and Whittier Christian (44-6) and losing on the road to league champion Maranatha (42-24) and Valley Christian (34-10). Templeton: A year removed from a one-win season, the Eagles upset league favorite Nipomo 15-14 in a rain-soaked game that turned the Northern League into a three-team race. Templeton came out as the top seed in the league thanks to a preseason draw, having also beaten Mission Prep (41-34) and Santa Maria (48-14) and losing to Morro Bay (23-22) on a last-second blocked field goal attempt.
Players to watch — Heritage Christian: Running backs Michael Nimura and Jake Rodriguez both ran for more than 100 yards when the Warriors topped Village Christian in the “Bible Bowl.” Nimura ran for 154 yards and three scores, while had 117 yards on just eight carries. Templeton: The Eagles’ two quarterbacks, Jordan Bernal and Gunnar Griffin, have both thrown for more than 900 yards, while Christian Hauser leads a stable of running backs that have five players over 200 yards. Hauser also has a team-high 41 catches for 534 yards.
BISHOP MONTGOMERY (5-5) AT NIPOMO (6-4), 7:30 p.m.
How they got here — Bishop Montgomery: The Knights went 2-1 in South Catholic League play, beating Verbum Dei (30-27) and St. Bernard (42-14) before falling to league champion Cantwell-Sacred Heart (56-34). Bishop Montgomery posted shutouts in early season wins over Bellflower, Westchester and Bosco Tech. Nipomo: The Titans hung with large-school foes Lompoc (35-34 OT), Atascadero (35-21) and Arroyo Grande (34-27) in losses before jumping out to a 3-0 start in the Northern League with wins over Morro Bay (15-14), Santa Maria (52-15) and Mission Prep (36-0). A 15-14 loss to Templeton caused a three-way tie atop the league, with Nipomo being the second seed by virtue of a head-to-head win over Morro Bay.
Players to watch — Bishop Montgomery: Senior wideout Chris Hughes has caught 28 balls for 576 yards and nine of quarterback Austin Garbe’s 10 TD tosses. Carter London has a team-high 812 rushing yards, and Malik Buie has seven sacks. Nipomo: Senior QB Matt Albright has thrown for 2,419 yards despite the lost game in the rain against Templeton. Chris Owens is the leading rusher with 889 yards, and Nick Kimball leads the talented receiving corps with 40 catches, 884 yards and 15 scores.
MORRO BAY (5-5) AT PASADENA POLY (10-0), 7 p.m.
How they got here — Morro Bay: Despite the graduation of their 1,800-yard rusher and the near-retirement of their head coach, the Pirates earned a share of the Northern League trophy with league wins over Templeton (23-22), Santa Maria (40-0) and Mission Prep (35-14) after a 15-14 loss to Nipomo. Pasadena Poly: The undefeated Panthers earned the second overall seed in the bracket, rolling through the Prep League by beating Rio Hondo Prep (51-12), Firebaugh (50-6) and Flintridge Prep (56-14). Poly also beat Ambassador League champion Linfield Christian (30-27), which the winner of tonight’s matchup might face in the second round.
Players to watch — Morro Bay: Running back Will Unks and quarterback Isaac Manaputy have combined to run for 1,366 yards and 19 touchdowns. Elijah Garcia had a 60-yard TD run in the title-clinching win over Mission Prep in Week 10, and leads the Pirates with four interceptions. Pasadena Poly: Running back Griffin Carter needed just 10 carries to amass 162 yards and score four times in the regular-season finale against Flintridge Prep. He also had a pair of touchdowns in the narrow come-from-behind win over Linfield Christian.
MISSION PREP (4-6) AT MARANATHA (10-0), 7 p.m.
How they got here — Mission Prep: The Royals defeated playoff-bound Rio Hondo Prep on the road, 28-27, in their second game of the season before falling to fellow Northwest Division’s Linfield Christian (30-13) and Northern Division playoff team Bishop Diego (31-14). Mission Prep’s lone Northern League win was a 24-6 victory over Santa Maria. Maranatha: The top-seeded team in the bracket, the Minutemen swept the Olympic League schedule by beating Valley Christian (38-13), Village Christian (26-3), Heritage Christian (42-24) and Whittier Christian (69-32). They outscored their opponents 418-169 in the regular season.
Players to watch — Mission Prep: Sophomore Bryce Fledderman has thrown for 1,505 yards, while senior Dyllan Smiley leads the rushing attack with 954 yards. Defensive lineman Conrad Ochotorena and linebackers Sal LaCasto and Jack Balentine lead an experienced front seven on defense. Maranatha: Caleb Devine has crossed the 100-yard threshold in nine games, running for 1,629 yards with 24 scores. Eli Snyder has thrown for 1,710 yards and 14 scores against six interceptions, and the Minutemen have intercepted 16 passes.