Championship fever in Arroyo Grande as football team prepares for CIF game

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The Associated Student Body class at Arroyo Grande High School buzzed with activity Thursday morning as students drew posters and made preparations for tonight’s CIF divisional championship football game against Junipero Serra High School.

“It’s been hard to sleep this week,” said senior Ryan Brady, who wore a T-shirt reading, “We bleed blue and gold.”

“We’re so anxious because we want Friday to come as soon as possible,” he added.

That wait is over. About 1 p.m. today, five buses carrying more than 270 students, parents and other fans will depart the South County for Gardena, where the Eagles will play Serra at 7 p.m.

Tickets for four buses sold out quickly Tuesday, and a fifth bus was added Thursday morning to accommodate a waiting list of students eager to attend the game.

Many others, including the varsity cheer team and members of the speech and debate team, plan to carpool and caravan to Southern California.

“It’s cool to see the whole community come together,” said senior Donna Machado, who was working on a “We (heart) our Eagles” sign. “We’re really proud of all the guys for getting this far.”

Also traveling to the game is an “Arroyo Grande Eagles” banner that was reportedly displayed during the school’s 1987 final, said Shannon Hurtado, activities director at the school.

Arroyo Grande, which last won a California Interscholastic Federation divisional title in 1998, came into the playoffs as a wild card after finishing third in the PAC 7.

The Eagles’ win over Chaminade Prep of West Hills on Saturday night in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs puts Arroyo Grande in its first divisional championship game since 2000.

The Eagles also won division championships in 1987, 1994 and 1997.

This year’s playoffs reminded Arroyo Grande High Athletic Director Dwight MacDonald of the 1997 season, in which the Eagles finished 2-2 in the Northern League, good for a third-place tie, but went on to win a division championship.

“We got in as a wild card and beat some great teams, and hopefully we’ll do that again,” MacDonald said.

Jon Huss, who retired as head coach of the Eagles in 2006 after two decades and more than 205 career wins, said the team has gained momentum at the right time, similar to the 1997 team.

The team’s success “transcends the years of the program,” he said, bringing together past players who still show up to watch practices and attend games.

“It’s a neat bonding that goes on, and the community has always been very special, very supportive,” Huss said.

Eagles supporters include longtime fan Mike Addy, whose son, Chris, played on the junior varsity team this year.

“Pretty much everything we do is centered around Arroyo Grande football,” he said.

Mike Addy started going to games soon after moving to the area in 1980.

“Win, lose, whatever, we’re always going to be proud of our players and coaches,” he said.

Velma Harris, a fundraiser and board member for the high school’s Eagle Boosters, is taking the bus to the game, where she plans to holler, scream and cheer for the team.

“I told these boys that I felt it coming on, I just felt it,” said Harris, who follows all of the high school’s sports teams.

Also in the stands tonight will be Doug Hitchen, former Arroyo Grande High principal, athletic director and coach, among other titles. He called Saturday’s game against Chaminade “one of a kind.”

“It’s an honor to be in the last game of the season,” he said, “but the season has been long, not only on our coaches, but our kids.”

The Eagles will leave this morning for Gardena, about 15 miles south of Los Angeles.

In the neighboring community of Hawthorne, the Police Officers Association — which includes narcotics investigator Frank Miller, who played under Huss in 1982 and 1983 — will serve lunch and host the team for a few hours in the afternoon.

“We’re going to try to roll out the red carpet for them,” said Miller, a former Eagles lineman who went on to play for the University of Oregon.

As for the team, assistant coach Mike McAustin said, “One of the strengths of this team is that they bonded as a team, and they continued to get better. They believe in themselves, and they believe in each other.”

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCounty Beat on Twitter.

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