For most of this decade, the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay high school football programs have had an imagined rivalry. Now, they’re back to having an actual one on the field.
Despite being the only two non-continuation high schools in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, the two teams didn’t play each other from 2002 to 2007.
Morro Bay will visit San Luis Obispo at Holt Field at 7:30 tonight, looking to avenge a 28-14 Tigers win last year in what was the first contest between the two teams in seven years.
“No matter the sport, it’s just a rivalry,” Pirates junior quarterback Sam Crizer said. “We’re 15 minutes apart. It’s just born in us — San Luis just becomes someone you want to beat.”
In the past, scheduling efforts between the schools were complicated because Morro Bay wanted to play later into the season than San Luis Obispo did, but the schools seem to have come to terms with resuming play on a yearly basis.
“Our kids know their kids and vice versa,” said Morro Bay coach John Andree, also the Pirates’ athletic director. “And we know their staff really well. We’re going to try to keep them on our schedule, if they’ll have us, every year.”
Tigers athletic director Vic Ecklund said San Luis Obispo would like to do just that — not only because of the relationships between the programs, but because the short travel distance makes so much sense in today’s economy.
“It’s definitely a really big game with bragging rights in the community,” San Luis Obispo senior defensive back Alex Frost said. “I think we’ll both come out with a lot of intensity.”
San Luis Obispo (1-1) opened this year by topping Dos Pueblos 16-3 before falling to Oxnard 30-14.
Against Oxnard, the Tigers lost a 14-10 fourth-quarter lead because of “mental lapses,” San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley said.
San Luis Obispo has relied upon a speedy backfield led by 5-foot-5, 150-pound senior running back Nate Nunno, who has rushed for a team-high 143 yards and two touchdowns on only 16 carries.
Meanwhile, junior quarterback Anthony Maez, a first-year starter for the Tigers, is 12-of-17 passing for 170 yards, and has added 122 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Frost leads a fast San Luis Obispo defense with two interceptions and a 70-yard fumble return for a score.
Morro Bay’s offense runs through Crizer, a 6-2, 205-pounder who is 11-of-24 passing for 136 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and has rushed for 296 yards and two more scores on 36 attempts. All but one of his pass completions came last week in a 28-13 win at Oak Park, as Morro Bay (2-0) opened the season in a foggy, 6-0 slugfest win over Carpinteria. Crizer doubles as a defensive back, and also handles Morro Bay’s punting and kicking duties.
“Crizer runs it, he kicks it, he throws it, he drives the bus — he does it all,” Kelley quipped.
Such versatility in a Morro Bay signal-caller might conjure memories of Logan Budd, the Pirates’ prolific leader during an 11-1 campaign in 2007 who is now playing at Cal Poly.
“We’re trying to stay away from those comparisons,” Andree said. “We want him to come into his own and emerge as his own player.
“His passing’s coming along. We’re hoping that (as a senior) he’ll be able to take a game over on both sides of the ball.”
Post-Budd, the Pirates completed only 45.9 percent of their passes for fewer than 900 yards last season.
“Morro Bay football has been run, run, run for the last half a season,” Crizer said. “It feels so good to get the ball in the air.”
Gardner Kennedy, a 6-5, 210-pound tight end, leads Morro Bay with six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.
At running back, Hylan Lockshaw (who has rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries) shoulders most of the load for the Pirates, with Bronson Gonzalez (also a linebacker and the leading tackler in Morro Bay’s 3-5-3 defense) complementing him in a short-yardage capacity.
Morro Bay’s offensive line is led by 6-foot, 305-pounder John Bailey and has welcomed 6-3, 275-pound sophomore Jonathan Miller.
San Luis Obispo, which doesn’t list any players at more than 240 pounds, has compensated for a lack of prototypical girth with its explosiveness, giving the matchup a classic size-versus-speed outlook.
“They’re going to show some speed — we’re going to show them some power,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll see who wins.”