The Arroyo Grande High School football team fell victim to Lompoc’s potent running game, falling behind 21-7 at halftime as their Central Coast rival ran the ball early and often, in a season-opening 28-14 road loss.
The two opponents know each other well — Friday night’s matchup was their 81st meeting.
Unable to contain Taua
The Eagles were unable to stop the Braves’ junior running back Toa Taua, who had 23 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns. Taua continually made something out of nothing when it seemed as if the Eagles had him bottled up. Taua also lateraled a ball to fellow running back Dallas Canley for a 4-yard score in the second quarter after it appeared that his forward progress had been stopped.
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Taua — who also plays linebacker — was a force on the other side of the ball, intercepting Arroyo Grande quarterback Sawyer May at the end of the third quarter in the red zone and sacking May in the fourth when the Eagles were threatening again. May had only one interception all of last year.
The Braves had 251 yards total on the ground, with Canley contributing 76.
Dropped passes and penalties hurt the Eagles all night. Big plays that would have changed the complexion of the game were erased by drops or holds. The opportunities were there for big plays — plays that Arroyo Grande made last year and will have to make this year if they want to repeat as PAC 5 champions. May had completions of 41, 29 and 42 yards, showing that the Eagles still have quick-strike ability — but more chances were missed than converted.
Defense showed flashes
Last year, the Eagles defense gave up only 13.1 points per game and was turnover machine. The defense showed flashes of that championship defense in stretches, lead by middle linebackers Sam Ness and Jack Ventura.
Ventura blocked a punt with less than four minutes remaining, giving the Eagles excellent field position. Lompoc ran away from Ness whenever possible, but defensive lineman John Farley still blew up several plays in the backfield.
Arroyo Grande got a good look at a run-first team and one that is comparable to other teams within the PAC 5 in Paso Robles and Atascadero. Cameron Johnston had 17 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown, all coming in the second half. Johnston also caught a 42-yard pass from May, which led to a first-and-goal opportunity. If Arroyo Grande finds a running back to set the table for May, the Eagles could be dangerous. James Gilmet started the game for Arroyo Grande and was supplemented with Tyler Rocha before Johnston entered. Gilmet scored Arroyo Grande’s first touchdown.
May was 11-of-19 passing for 174 yards — just a hair under his 62-percent completion rate from last season — and showed that he can create something from nothing, doing his best Russell Wilson impression in the backfield on multiple occasions.
The Eagles play host to Garces of Bakersfield next Friday at 7 p.m.