CAMARILLO — The San Luis Obispo High football team hadn’t been in the playoffs in four years and hadn’t won a postseason game since defensive coordinate Kwaku Farkye was a cornerback for the Tigers in 2006.
But with some effective game-planning by Farkye — a former all-county defensive back who walked on to the Cal Poly football team for two seasons — and an offense that proved difficult to stop, San Luis Obispo is back.
A third-place PAC 7 team that earned an at-large berth to the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs, the Tigers (8-3) rolled to a 54-28 victory Friday night over host Adolfo Camarillo (7-4), the Pacific View League champion.
Featuring their own nightmarish no-huddle, high-octane shotgun spread offense, the Scorpions presented a unique challenge of their own.
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San Luis Obispo coaches knew they couldn’t afford to give Camarillo quarterback Travis Valdez time to throw, and the Tigers responded by sacking him seven times.
“We knew we were faster than them up front, more physical than them,” Farkye said. “We wanted to bring four-man pressure and make sure that if we could get there with four, we knew that we’d have the coverage on top of everything.”
Valdez still passed for 282 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-31 passing, but most of that damage came after San Luis Obispo had already built a 48-7 third-quarter lead. Valdez finished with negative 27 yards on the ground after all the sacks.
Tigers defender Jake Niezen blocked a punt, and Erik Cordova returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
Defensively, “I think they did as good a job as anybody did all year long,” said Scorpions coach Dennis Riedmiller, who broke into the Tigers’ postgame huddle to congratulate San Luis Obispo and wish the team good luck.
“I don’t think anybody has beaten us up like that all year long. They played a great game. I just felt like I needed to go over there and let them how great a game they played. I don’t have any problems going over and congratulating someone who just tore us up on our own field. I think they deserve that.”
San Luis Obispo advances to face the winner of the Chaminade-Inglewood playoff game in the quarterfinals.
Offensively, the Tigers rolled up 299 rushing yards with their flexbone formation triple option.
Senior fullback Jacob Flores had 18 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown, and after Flores rolled up 92 first-half yards and the Scorpions made halftime adjustments to stop him, San Luis Obispo went to its slotbacks.
Trevor MacLeod had 40 yards and a touchdown, Bryan Coburn had 36 yards and two TD runs and Cordova had 21 yards and a touchdown. Backup fullback Sawyer Scott added a 56-yard touchdown run late in the second half.
It’s an offense that gives San Luis Obispo head coach David Kelley plenty of confidence heading into future playoff matchups. Both head coaches agreed it’s a tough scheme to prepare for.
“When you’re not used to running against things like that, like the option, then it’s really difficult,” Riedmiller said.
Said Kelley: “Guys in our league know us, so they can defend it a little better, but get us in the playoffs though. ... I want to see a team prepare in two days for what we do. Triple option’s hard to stop.”
Tigers quarterback Garrett Giovannelli had only 48 yards of total offense but burst free on a game-changing 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half.
It jump-started a four-touchdown, third-quarter run that transformed the game from a tight 20-7 affair into a blowout.
San Luis Obispo improved to 3-0 all-time against Camarillo, beating the Scorpions in two other first-round playoff games in the past decade. The Tigers took a 28-21 victory in 2004 and a 48-27 win in 2001, the year San Luis Obispo ran all the way to a division title.
That was the last time any San Luis Obispo County team won a section title, and the Tigers have only advanced past the second round once since 2001.
“We just proved we’re back,” said Kelley, who was an assistant on the 2006 team and took over as head coach in 2009. “That’s what we’ve been building for the last three years. We believe we’re a legitimate program that people are going to have to contend with every game they play. Hopefully, we can maintain it now.”
Said Cordova: “We’re playing with that desire that I think nobody else has. We just keep pushing and pushing. After years of disappointment, I think this is the year we can go far.”