It’s hard to talk about Friday night’s game between Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles without talking about the past.
Last season, the Bearcats were Eagle killers.
In the team’s first meeting in October, a controversial fumble recovery by Bailey Gaither and a gutsy two-point conversion call by Paso Robles coach Rich Schimke gave the Bearcats a 28-27 come-from-behind win in the final minutes.
A little more than a month later, Gaither burned the Eagles again when he took a screen pass 62 yards for a score in the final minute to give Paso Robles a 28-21 victory and send the Bearcats to their first Southern Section Northern Division championship game since 2000.
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“They were crazy games,” Paso Robles running back Christian Erickson said. “But we just have to take this week like any other game and just do what we got to do.”
Erickson missed the second meeting between the teams with an injury, but he rushed for 185 yards on 36 carries and a touchdown in the first game. This season Erickson has stayed healthy and has been sensational for Paso Robles (3-3).
Through the team’s first six games of this season, the 6-foot, 220-pound junior has bulled his way for 1,134 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging nearly 9 yards per carry. What’s more impressive is that Erickson has been able to average 189 yards per game despite an offensive line returning just one starter and running against opposing defenses that load up to stop the run.
“We know what we’re getting in Paso Robles,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “We’re going to get a dose of Mr. Erickson, and he has proven himself to be an outstanding back, not just on the Central Coast but really throughout California.”
The Bearcats have averaged more than 400 yards of offense per game, with more than 275 of those yards coming on the ground.
“Where we are is what I like,” Schimke said of his offensive run-pass balance. “You’ve got to play to your strengths. The ball is not very heavy, anybody can carry it, but not everybody can throw it and catch it.”
Throwing the ball for Paso Robles is senior quarterback Justin Davis, who would like to forget his performances against Arroyo Grande last season. Davis threw seven of his 11 interceptions last year in the two games against Arroyo Grande. Schimke said Davis is still trying to catch up this season after sitting out most of the summer following surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand.
Davis’ numbers have been solid. He’s completed 66 percent of his passes and averaged 132 yards passing per game, with most going to Gaither’s replacement, wide receiver Steven Schouten — who was Davis’ backup quarterback last season.
“As his backup, I got to see his thought process and what he doesn’t like out of his receivers, so I try to do the opposite,” Schouten said.
The 5-foot-9, 150-pound junior has six receiving touchdowns this season including a four touchdown performance in a 52-21 win over Nordhoff.
“Steven is slight of stature, but he’s a competitor,” Schimke said. “We have a lot of players, I’m looking for more competitors like him.”
Davis has thrown just two interceptions this season, but Schimke says it’s mental mistakes that have hurt the Bearcats early in the season.
“It is midseason now, we should be rounding into form,” Schimke said. “Physical (mistakes) we can deal with, it’s the missed assignments. Those things are the things we’re trying to clean up.”
Along with trying to clean up mistakes and figuring out an Arroyo Grande offense that has averaged 34 points per game, Paso Robles is also trying to figure out how to beat a flu bug that has plagued the team this week.
“We’re missing about 12 guys,” Schimke said during practice Wednesday. “On Friday, we will dress about 42 guys on a squad that has 55.”
Now, Paso Robles will head to Arroyo Grande and face a 5-1 Eagles team that is sick of losing three in a row to the defending CIF-Southern Section Northern Division champs.