High School Sports

Prep Football: Several county teams are feeling early season pains

nlucero@thetribunenews.com

A month into the season, Morro Bay had arguably as little to worry about as any high school football team on the Central Coast.

The Pirates entered last week’s Los Padres League opener against Nipomo 3-0, ranked No. 5 in the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division, and perhaps most importantly, were largely injury-free.

At the middle of it all was junior quarterback Sam Crizer, who’d rushed for 151.3 yards per game.

But the Morro Bay signal-caller never got to take a snap against the Titans. On the opening possession of the game, Crizer — also a safety — had his left hand stepped on, forcing him to leave the game and get stitches. Without him, the Pirates struggled to find an offensive rhythm and suffered their first defeat, 27-10.

Both Morro Bay and Templeton (3-1) will be looking to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole in LPL play when the Pirates visit the Eagles at 7:30 tonight.

“A loss here would really put us behind the 8-ball,” Morro Bay coach John Andree said. “Every game in the LPL is a playoff game.”

In addition to Nipomo (3-1), ranked eighth in the Northwest Division, the LPL also features third-ranked St. Joseph (4-0, 2-0) and fourth-ranked Pioneer Valley (4-0, 1-0).

Early this week, Crizer was unable to take snaps at practice, Andree said Tuesday, and whether he’s able to play may come down to a game-time decision. If Crizer is unable to go, Gardner Kennedy will again be the Pirates’ quarterback. The 6-foot-5 Kennedy, normally a tight end, rushed for 93 yards and a score on 19 carries last week.

Morro Bay is just one of a handful of San Luis Obispo County teams to already have been faced with overcoming injuries to key starters before the season’s halfway point. Of the county’s four PAC 7 teams, Arroyo Grande (3-1) and Paso Robles (2-2) had byes last week, and Atascadero (4-1) is off this week.

“The bye week actually came at a good time this year for us,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said.

Before the season, Cooper spoke of a deep backfield the Greyhounds would use to replace San Diego State signee Nick Tenhaeff, an All-Northern Division running back. He just didn’t know how far into that depth he’d have to reach.

Early in the second quarter of Atascadero’s 35-21 win over Redwood of Visalia on Sept. 25, the Greyhounds saw starting running back Sterling Bullard take a helmet to an ankle that had aggravated him in the preseason, forcing him to leave the game. After that, fellow running back Tanner Thompson suffered a neck injury, prompting Atascadero to turn to Adam Lopez, who didn’t skip a beat, taking 19 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

Last week, Thompson — who recovered from the neck ailment — came down with flu, and Lopez delivered again, running for 172 yards on 31 carries during a 29-21 win at Hueneme.

“He adds a different dimension to what we do,” Cooper said of the 5-7, 161-pound Lopez, more of a scatback than his counterparts. “He’s a guy that’s going to make 100 moves.”

Bullard will likely be able to return next week, Cooper said.

Arroyo Grande already lost its original starting quarterback, Clark Goossen, to a broken leg in late August. Matt McAustin has emerged in his place, completing 50 of 77 passes for 677 yards and three touchdowns with four interceptions.

Meanwhile, Paso Robles turned to backup quarterback Jacob Searcy prior to its game against Garfield of Los Angeles on Sept. 25. In his first varsity start, the junior went 6-of-17 passing for 88 yards with an interception, and directed a game-winning scoring drive late in the fourth quarter as the Bearcats prevailed 8-7.

Bearcats coach Rich Schimke declined to comment earlier this week on the health of normal starting quarterback Thomas Bernal, a third-year starter and preseason CalHiSports.com All-Ventura/Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo counties selection.Paso Robles hosts El Diamante at 7:30 tonight.

“The bye week happened at a good time,” Schimke said. “We got rejuvenated and are itching to play.”

The Miners (3-1) have plenty of incentive of their own. Last year, the Bearcats won 35-14 at El Diamante, snapping the 2007 Central Section Division II champions’ 15-game winning streak.

“They’re going to be sky-high for us,” Schimke said. “The revenge factor is there.”

Paso Robles’ defense, which graduated all 11 starters from 2008, has matured since a rough first two weeks, giving up just two touchdowns over its past two outings combined.

“We look at Paso as somewhat in the same boat as us,” Cooper said. “You never know what they’re going to be when they get healthy and as their defense matures.”

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