James Gilmet admits he was frustrated by the first three games of the season.
After a sophomore season in which the Arroyo Grande High School running back rushed for more than 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns, Gilmet had just 56 yards and zero touchdowns on the ground through the first three games of his junior year.
But Gilmet returned to form Friday night in Arroyo Grande against St. Joseph. Gilmet had 32 carries for 218 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Eagles to a 38-20 win. The win —Arroyo Grande’s third in a row — washed away an 0-2 start and announced to the rest of the PAC 5 that they are the favorites to win another league title.
“This feels great; we definitely needed this,” Gilmet said after the game. “This was a tough team, and this kind of shows what we are. We are a new team, and I think people are starting to see that. That’s a great win to take home for the crowd.”
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Early and Often
Aroryo Grande was able to establish Gilmet early in the game. On the opening drive, Gilmet carried the ball six times for 48 yards and scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to cap it. By halftime, Arroyo Grande had a 21-7 lead, and Gilmet already had 112 yards on 18 carries. The Eagles’ big offensive line was too much for the Knights to handle. Arroyo Grande finished the game with 285 yards rushing.
“He figured out, ‘Hey, I need to run hard,’ ” Arroyo Grande head coach Mike Hartman said. “These are the types of performances that he was envisioning for himself from the get go.”
Gilmet has now rushed for 385 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games.
4th Down Stops
Both offenses were rolling most of Friday night in a back-and-forth game — there wasn’t a punt until 1:35 left in the game — but it was two fourth-down stops by the Arroyo Grande defense that changed the outcome. With Arroyo Grande up 14-7 in the second quarter, St. Joseph went for it on fourth and goal from the 8-yard line. But Knights quarterback Dino Maldonado was forced to hit his second read on a pass to the sideline. Michael McLean was ready. He made the tackle, the Eagles took over and drove the ball 90 yards for a Kadin Byrne quarterback sneak touchdown with 26 seconds left in the second quarter to take a 21-7 lead to halftime.
The Arroyo Grande defense had help on a play in the fourth quarter when the Knights center snapped the ball early to Maldonado and threw off the timing of another fourth down. Arroyo Grande took over, and Gilmet went on to score his third touchdown of the night to make it 35-14 and put the game out of reach.
Senior defensive back Dakota Ryken and sophomore linebacker Jed Rantz also had interceptions for an Arroyo Grande defense that was able to slow a potent Knights passing attack. Senior defensive lineman Jose Perez had a pair of tackles for loss.
Let It Byrne
After beating out sophomore Caleb Tomasin for the starting job, junior quarterback Kadin Byrne has steadily improved as the season has progressed.
Against St. Joseph, Byrne rushed for two touchdowns and was 7-of-9 passing for 58 yards, but he showed up big in clutch situations. After St. Joseph scored on the opening drive of the second half to shrink the Eagles’ lead to 21-14, Byrne converted two big third-down plays to keep the chains moving. First, Byrne made the perfect call on an option read and kept the ball, rushing for 14 yards to pick up the first down. A few plays later, he found senior wide receiver Nathan Wensloff on an out-and-up on the sideline for 23 yards and a big first down.
The drive ended with Gilmet’s second touchdown of the game and put Arroyo Grande up 28-14.
Arroyo Grande (3-2) will take on Nipomo (1-3) Friday in its final nonconference game before the start of PAC 5 play.