The San Luis Obispo High School football team was visibly upset as the first half came to a close Friday night in its Ocean League opener against Pioneer Valley.
The Tigers had lost their starting quarterback Emilio Corona — the team’s leading rusher — to an ankle injury late in the half and trailed 21-7.
But upstart SLO High, in the midst of its most successful season since 2011, didn’t shrink away from the challenge. The Tigers only allowed a field goal in the second half, and a comeback led by backup quarterback Jeremy Fitzsimmons fell just short in a 24-17 loss.
“I think they responded great,” SLO High head coach Pat Johnston said. “When you have a marquee player go down, it’s really easy to get down on yourselves and lose motivation. Our guys did anything but that.”
After taking a knee to close the half, the Tigers regrouped.
On Pioneer Valley’s first possession of the third quarter, the Tiger defense held for field goal, the only points San Luis Obispo would allow in the second half.
Anthony Arroyo had 80 yard rushing and a score.
It could have been a different story, too, had the Tigers not stalled twice on the Pioneer Valley 1-yard line. In the end, it was SLO High’s first loss since its season opener against Arroyo Grande.
Fitzsimmons steps up
Fitzsimmons stepped into the quarterback role after the receiver and running back had a 58-yard catch and run for a score before taking over for Corona.
Fitzsimmons finished with 155 rushing yards and was instrumental in setting up the Tigers’ second-half scores. His confidence grew as the second half wore on, although timing between receivers and quarterback was understandably off.
“That’s a guy who has worked extremely hard in the weight room, conditioning-wise and to get familiar with our offense,” Johnston said.
Johnston said Fitzsimmons didn’t play his sophomore year, but he committed to the team, along with a handful of others, this offseason.
“And it’s made a huge difference for us. I’m thankful for not only them being on the team, but the work ethic they demonstrated,” Johnston said.
The Tigers (4-2, 0-1) will play host to Santa Maria (2-4, 0-1) next Friday, while Pioneer Valley (3-3, 1-0) will host Templeton (1-5, 0-1).
Other scores involving SLO County teams
Righetti 52, Paso Robles 20
Nipomo 38, Santa Maria 7
Templeton 41, Morro Bay 14
St. Joseph 34, Arroyo Grande 17
Royal 24, Atascadero 19
Mission Prep 41, Frazier Mountain 0
Other Central Coast scores
Lompoc 21, Santa Ynez 0
Dos Pueblos 42, Cabrillo 0
Orcutt Academy 73, Kings Christian 14