The Templeton High football team was amped up to stop St. Joseph’s big-play running back K.J. Cusack, the third-leading rusher on the Central Coast.
The Eagles just weren’t prepared for Tim Puerling.
Templeton was immediately caught off guard when Puerling, the Knights’ junior backup quarterback — not Cusack — burst free for a 70-yard touchdown run on the third play from scrimmage and passed all over the field to lead St. Joseph to a 38-20 victory Friday night.
“That wasn’t the guy they had early on in the season,” Eagles coach Dave Harper said. “They put another guy in and he’s just as good or better than their first guy.”
Cusack got the Eagles in the end, too. Only, by the time he rattled off a 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, the game was essentially over.
With a touchdown pass by Puerling and a 1-yard, fourth-down plunge by Cusack, the Knights had stunned the Templeton crowd by taking a 21-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.
St. Joseph (4-0, 2-0 Los Padres League), ranked third in the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division poll, held a 28-0 lead over the ninth-ranked Eagles (3-1, 0-1 LPL) in the third quarter before Templeton finally got on the board with a 12-yard touchdown run by Tyler Gray.
The Knights’ onslaught all began with Puerling, who had the 70-yard touchdown run and completed his first four passes and five of his first six for 90 yards. Puerling was only in the game after starter Jacob Cano went down with an ankle injury in last week’s 45-0 win over Cabrillo.
“I knew he was nervous,” said Cusack, who came into the game averaging nearly 25 yards per carry and finished with 180 yards on 20 attempts. “I had confidence in him. He controlled the huddle, and when he busted that run he knew he was thirsty for the end zone.”
Templeton did get to Puerling, who finished 9 of 17 for 128 yards, despite Cusack calling the Knights’ offensive line one of the best on the Central Coast.
The Eagles sacked him three times, and Gray added what was nearly a fourth sack after he ran the scrambling quarterback down from behind for no gain.
It just seemed that every time Templeton took down Puerling, like Dakota Oropeza did for a 4-yard loss on a third-and-1 play in the first quarter, the Knights would make up for it on the next play — at least in the first half.
The Eagles did not force a punt from St. Joseph until there was only three minutes left in the second quarter.
In the second half, however, Templeton began to blitz up the middle, timing its pressures carefully with Puerling’s snap count.
“We closed the holes and we started shutting them down,” Oropeza said. “The blitzes worked out great.”
The blitzing helped slow down the St. Joseph offense, but it couldn’t get the Eagles out of the hole their own offense had left them in with a poor first-half showing.
Templeton had just 34 yards of total offense in the first half and gained only two first downs.
Eagles quarterback Nolan Hildebrand started the game 2-of-10 passing with 9 yards and two interceptions.
Hildebrand came back to finish 13 of 25 for 133 yards and two touchdowns, doing most of his damage in a fourth-quarter rally.
Templeton now heads into a rivalry game with Morro Bay next week. That Central Coast clash has turned into a game to see which previously 3-0 team can avoid falling to 0-2 in LPL play.
“We got a lot of football left to play,” Harper said. “We’ve got to worry about Morro Bay coming up and just do the best we can. It’s a little disappointing, but we played a good football team.”