In a game that was overshadowed by injuries, one thing was abundantly clear: This year’s Atascadero High School football team has little in common with the squad that went 0-10 last season.
Undefeated Redwood of Visalia (4-0) beat the Greyhounds 51-6 on Friday night — a scoreline that would suggest differently. But in a game where their starting quarterback was lost in the first quarter, followed by another player leaving the stadium in an ambulance in the second, the Atascadero defense played well in the minutes that mattered.
The opening kick off was taken back 95 yards for a score and while the offense sputtered, the defense forced back-to-back turnovers to keep Atascadero (2-3) in the game. Forrest Powell forced a fumble that was recovered by Sam Bordan, and Tyler Chapman had an interception.
This year, the Greyhound defense has five interceptions through five games — after having two all of last season.
Injuries take their toll
Starting quarterback Wes Cooper left the game with a shoulder injury and would not return. Central Section sack leader Hudson Walker and the Redwood defensive line feasted on broken plays resulting from bad snaps, one of which led to Cooper’s injury.
Then, with 5:25 left in the second quarter, Atascadero offensive lineman Josh Penland went down in the backfield. The junior did not appear to be moving and an ambulance was called. He was taken to Twin Cities Community Hospital.
Atascadero head coach Vic Cooper had an update following the game.
“It looks like he’s doing all right,” Cooper said. “Pretty sure it was a lower back injury, but he was moving all of his extremities, he could talk and he was coherent. So this is just a wealth of being very conservative.”
The game continued, and Atascadero responded, scoring on a Zyon Richardson kickoff return.
“It’s like a defensive back who gets burnt for a long touchdown,” Cooper said. “If you sit there and dwell on (what happened), it’s just going to eat you the whole game.”
But after halftime, it was clear the injuries had taken their toll, both physically and mentally, as the Rangers scored 21 unanswered points.
‘Glimpses of brilliance’
Redwood has a roster of 80 players — nearly twice the size of Atascadero’s — and were able to substitute at will against a tired defense.
This Greyhounds roster is largely comprised of the same players as last season’s winless squad, with a few key additions.
Richardson has proved to be electric with the ball in his hands, as well as junior speedster Jadon Prince, who returned an interception for a touchdown last week against Shafter. Prince, one of the few juniors in a major role, also has three rushing touchdowns, including a 92-yarder, also against Shafter.
Once the Greyhounds figure out how to consistently get their play makers involved on offense, they could be a team no one wants to play once league play rolls around in three weeks.
Cooper said the struggles on offense are not all physical or mental, but a little bit of everything.
“We have glimpses of brilliance, and then the next second it’s a bonehead play,” Cooper said. “If we can clean up that stuff on offense, we can be a pretty good football team.”
Atascadero will have a much needed bye week before playing Royal of Simi Valley at home the following week.
Other SLO and northern Santa Barbara county scores
San Luis Obispo 36, Santa Ynez 13
Arroyo Grande 21, Nipomo 6
Liberty 23, Templeton 20
Paso Robles 35, Pioneer Valley 21
Santa Maria 31, Mt. Whitney 21
Oak Park 35, Mission Prep 7
Coast Union 78, Kings Christian 20
Righetti 42, Soledad 0
Centennial 10, St. Joseph 8
Orcutt Academy 28, Cate 24
Buena 49, Cabrillo 21