The head football coaches at Morro Bay, Nipomo, St. Joseph and Templeton high schools all agree: This version of the Los Padres League has never been better top-to-bottom.
The LPL enters tonight with a collective 17-5 nonleague record (including a 6-3 mark against the neighboring PAC 7) and four unbeaten teams.
“It speaks for itself,” first-year Templeton coach Dave Harper said.
Five LPL teams were represented in Monday’s CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division rankings, with St. Joseph at No. 3, Pioneer Valley at No. 4, Morro Bay at No. 5, Templeton at No. 9 and Nipomo in the others receiving votes category.
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“This is definitely, in the five years I’ve been here, the most quality (the LPL has had) from top to bottom,” said Nipomo coach Russ Edwards, in his third year as the Titans’ head coach. He spent the two previous seasons as an assistant.
“This year, it seems like there’s a lot more balance,” said St. Joseph coach Mike Hartman, in his fifth year leading the Knights.
Of the eight-team group, only Cabrillo (0-3) has a losing record.
“I think from top to bottom, this is the toughest it’s been,” 13th-year Morro Bay coach John Andree agreed.
The LPL morphed into most of its present manifestation prior to the 2002 season, when Arroyo Grande, Righetti and San Luis Obispo left the disbanding Northern League to form the PAC 5 with Atascadero and Paso Robles. While Paso Robles and Atascadero were in the LPL, they collected a combined seven divisional titles from 1993 to 2000, and even met in the Division IX title game in 1993.
Prior to 2006, Lompoc — a Northern League castoff that played in the LPL from 2002 through 2005 — joined the PAC 5, which was then renamed to the PAC 7. Also in 2006, Pioneer Valley and Templeton began competing in the LPL, giving the league its current eight-team look. Nipomo joined in 2003.
It may be timely and appropriate that the current incarnation of the LPL could be at the pinnacle of its brief history.
Following a cyclical four-year re-leaguing process, St. Joseph and Pioneer Valley are expected to join the PAC 7 in all sports next year, while Nipomo and Lompoc will compete in the LPL in all sports. Nipomo and Pioneer Valley have been in the PAC 7 in all sports besides football, while Lompoc has been in the LPL in everything but football. The 2006 re-leaguing configurations were officially made public in late October of 2005.
The upcoming changes would leave seven football teams in each league, alleviating scheduling and traveling complications while aligning the leagues to be more in accordance with enrollment figures and similarly competitive peers.
The current LPL’s trio of San Luis Obispo County teams all open league play at 7:30 tonight, as Morro Bay (3-0) hosts Nipomo (2-1) and St. Joseph (3-0) visits Templeton (3-0).
Morro Bay, coming off a 34-10 win over San Luis Obispo, will be looking to neutralize the speed of Nipomo, whose skill-position players have translated a successful track season last year to the gridiron. Titans quarterback Josh Correia has the most touchdown passes in the area this year, with six, and has completed 36 of 69 passes for 537 yards, averaging nearly 15 yards per completion.
“We’ve got to take away the big plays,” Andree said of Nipomo’s quick-strike potential and athleticism.
The Titans, coming off a bye week, topped Carpinteria 36-29 two weeks ago without six defensive starters. Their healthier unit will have no small task in accounting for Morro Bay junior quarterback Sam Crizer, whose running savvy — 56 carries for 454 yards and three touchdowns — rivals that of almost any running back in the area.
“Assignment football,” Edwards said simply of defending Crizer. “If our contain guy doesn’t (keep containment), Crizer’s fast enough to bounce to the outside and run down the sideline.”
Nipomo has never beaten Morro Bay. That opportunity only adds to the built-up fervor of the Titans, who brought back 17 starters from last season and feel like they have the most talented squad in the short annals of the program.
Templeton, coming off a 47-0 crushing of King City, will be up against a stout St. Joseph front featuring 6-foot-6, 281-pound Zach Perron.
Perron and the Knights have helped pave the way for 5-10, 160-pound running back, cornerback and kick returner K.J. Cusack, arguably the most dangerous open-field threat in the area who is averaging 24.7 yards a rush and has compiled 875 all-purpose yards and 10 scores on only 34 touches.
Templeton, though, has gotten off to a promising start in its own right, not throwing any interceptions and rotating four running backs who’ve totaled at least 115 rushing yards. Tyler Gray, a 6-3, 205-pound junior, leads the bunch with 40 carries for 231 yards and five touchdowns.
“They haven’t changed their persona too much,” Hartman said of Templeton, which went 39-16 over the past five seasons as an efficient outfit that often played up to schools with much larger enrollments under then-coach Don Crow. “They’re still a very well- coached, tough football team.”