Two of San Luis Obispo County’s historic high school football powerhouses faced off Friday night, and the matchup lived up to its billing in the opening game of Mountain League play. Arroyo Grande (5-3) stopped a Paso Robles (2-5) two-point conversion attempt with no time left on the clock to win 21-20.
The two teams have near opposite records, but on Friday, they played nearly identically and it showed — not only in the scoreline.
Both teams were stifling on defense on late downs.
Arroyo Grande’s defensive line wrecked havoc at the line of scrimmage, giving Paso Robles’ quarterback Braden Waterman no time in the pocket. Even out of the shotgun, Waterman rarely had a clean pocket or time to throw. The Eagles had three sacks, and Zach Clift had a forced fumble.
Senior Brett Rash also picked off Waterman for his third interception in five games this season.
Arroyo Grande is no stranger to close games. Half of its games have now been decided by a touchdown or less.
The Bearcats recovered a botched pitch from Arroyo Grande for a turnover of their own. They forced the Eagles to pass on late downs where they were able to break up passes and make tackles short of the sticks.
Offenses feature backup RBs
The only way either team was able to get anything going on offense was through their feature running backs. For Arroyo Grande, that meant Mason Thompson, who stepped into Caleb Tomasin’s role following an injury earlier this season.
The junior ran for 181 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. Quarterback Ethan Royal added what would prove to be the deciding score from 15 yards out on fourth and 1 . The touchdown — with 2:31 left in the game — finished an impressive drive that started from the Eagle 15-yard line.
The Bearcats leaned on Georgia transfer Bennie Johnson even as the clock dwindled in the fourth quarter. Johnson, who moved to the area after the football season last year, was also filling in for an injured starter, Gerald Norte.
Johnson had 195 yards rushing, including a 59-yard touchdown. Jacob Lambeth also had an eight yard score.
“He’s not a new guy to us, but (Johnson) did a great job tonight,” Paso Robles head coach J.R. Reynolds said. “He had some big shoes to fill. Gerald Norte has been our bell cow on offense.”
But perhaps Paso Robles’ most important rush came when Braden Waterman was flushed from the pocket and rumbled 20 yards to the 1 yard line with four seconds left.
Will Goldammer scored on the ensuing play as time expired before Arroyo Grande stopped the Bearcats at the goal line on the two -point attempt.
The decision to go for two came down to momentum, Reynolds said.
“I wouldn’t change it,” Reynolds said. “I stand by it.”
Competitive league play ahead
If this game proves anything, it’s that the Mountain League will be fiercely competitive this season.
Arroyo Grande’s losses have come from Menlo-Atherton, the No. 98 ranked team in the state according to MaxPreps.com, an overtime loss to Bullard (No. 74) and San Luis Obispo to start the season. Every game has been on the road up to this point due to stadium renovations, and that won’t change next week.
The Eagles will play another talented team in Righetti (6-1), which is ranked No. 133 and coming off of a bye week. The Eagles will look to avenge last year’s loss to the Warriors — the first since 2009.
Paso Robles has had an arguably even harder schedule, and it’s reflected in its record. The Bearcats have played Central (No. 12), Liberty (No. 54) and Sanger (No. 128).
“I don’t care what anybody says,” Reynolds said. “We had the toughest schedule out of anyone in the area, and it prepared us for tonight. It really did. We just, unfortunately, were an inch short.”
Paso Robles will play at St. Joseph (4-3) next week which is also coming off of a bye week. The Knight’s quarterback, Hunter Barnhart, played for the Bearcats for the past two seasons.
Other scores from SLO and northern Santa Barbara county teams
Mission Prep 42, Morro Bay 7
San Luis Obispo 28, Atascadero 20
Templeton 53, Santa Maria 10
Nipomo 17, Pioneer Valley 3
St. Joseph 35, St. Margaret’s Episcopal 24
Orcutt Academy 41, Frazier Mountain 8
San Marcos 46, Cabrillo 6
Lompoc 56, Dos Pueblos 0
Santa Barbara 34, Santa Ynez 0