The football rivalry between Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo has been void of intrigue for quite some time.
It has consisted of markedly one-sided contests since 2008, the last time SLO High won a meeting between the two schools, with the Eagles winning by double-digits in 10 of the 11 games previous to Friday night’s iteration.
On one side was a county powerhouse. The other was amid the depths of the boom-and-bust cycle common across high school sports.
The two may have switched sides Friday night, as Tigers opened the 2019 prep football season with a 28-21 home victory over the Eagles.
Within the first three minutes of the game, SLO had scored twice, capitalizing on an interception that came on junior Ethan Royal’s first throw of his varsity career.
Arroyo Grande’s pedigree was still apparent as the Eagles clawed back from the deficit to tie the score at 14-14 by halftime, but the Tigers slowed Royal and workhorse running back Caleb Tomasin just enough to seal the victory.
“Our team collectively wants to dedicate this game to all the guys over the last 10 years or so that have taken their lumps, not just from Arroyo Grande, but all of the big power PAC 5 teams,” SLO High head coach Pat Johnston said. “These guys stuck with it and believed in playing football at this high school.”
On a night when drops threatened to derail the Tigers offense, senior quarterback Emilio Corona turned to his favorite target in Max Soltero when he needed him most.
The senior wideout opened the scoring with a 27-yard touchdown catch and had another of 16 yards in double coverage. He came within inches of another but was pushed out just short of the goal-line.
“I trust Max,” Corona said. “I think he’s our No. 1 receiver right now. So when I’m throwing to him, I always believe there’s a chance, even when I lob it up there. He’s gonna go win those balls. I never doubt it.”
Senior tailback Anthony Arroyo had two more scores.
The game meant a little extra for the seniors, who have now experienced success and all the failure that came before it. For Corona, he has seen the boom and bust first-hand. In his first year at SLO, the Tigers went 2-8.
He’s also experienced the routs that Arroyo Grande had handed down. In the past two years, Corona was on the losing end of 56-21 and 59-14 scorelines, respectively.
Johnston worked hard to change the culture of the program, and it has paid dividends, slowly but surely, year by year. It appears to have culminated in an experienced, driven team.
“(Arroyo Grande) killed us last year, (the score) was something awful,” Corona said. “We had a good season last year, and we came into summer, we had great attendance, everyone bought in. After the St. Joe’s scrimmage (last week), everyone just locked in.
“Everyone was just tired of it. Everyone was tired of getting disrespected by A.G., looked down on. ‘Oh, you guys can’t play football, you play soccer. You’re soft from SLO.’”
Corona added that the defense took exception to that notion, and it showed. The Tigers came up with several fourth-and-short stops — no small feat against the power run game of Arroyo Grande. They also defended the pass well and limited the big play, which has plagued the Tigers in years past.
“The best news is we still have a lot of improving still to do,” Johnston said. “That’s the best situation to be in — to win the game and still have a ton of improvement that you can do.”
Balanced A.G. Offense
After his initial turnover, Royal settled in, ultimately completing 12 of 20 passes — nearly a quarter of the passes the Eagles completed all of last season.
Royal’s success showed that opponents will have to do more than stack the box against Arroyo Grande and Tomasin.
Tomasin carried the ball 27 times for 157 yards and three scores. He also had a 32-yard completion.
Ballhawk Sebastian Angulo picked off Corona in the third quarter. The safety had five interceptions last season.
Arroyo Grande (0-1) will play Centennial (1-0) of Bakersfield next Friday. San Luis Obispo (1-0) will have a bye week before playing host to San Marcos on Sept. 6.
Other SLO and northern Santa Barbara county scores
Sunnyside 30, Atascadero 7
Woodlake 40, Mission Prep 20
Rio Hondo Prep 37, Morro Bay 0
Templeton 32, Caruthers 6
Nipomo 23, Santa Ynez 21
Liberty 24, Paso Robles 0
Righetti 42, Santa Maria 7
Oxnard 58, Pioneer Valley 7
St. Joseph 35, Central Valley Christian 7
Lompoc 24, Simi Valley 7
Fulton Prep 30, Orcutt Academy 20