High School Sports

Prep Football: Bearcats hope nonleague games have them primed for PAC 7

The upcoming month’s worth of PAC 7 high school football games should provide plenty of answers to plenty of questions.

Is Arroyo Grande, which finished no higher than fifth the past three years, the league’s team to beat after muscling its way to a 35-0 first-half lead over traditional rival San Luis Obispo and averaging nearly a 21-point margin of victory every time out?

Could the class of the group instead be Righetti, which was lodged in middle-of-the-pack, third- or fourth-place finishes the past three years but stunned three-time defending league champion Atascadero in a road upset last week?

When Atascadero coach Vic Cooper opined earlier this week that the league “probably has more parity than it’s had in a long time,” was he right?

And where in the puzzle will Paso Robles fit, after claiming the runner-up position in 2008 and the co-league championship in 2007?

“This year, it’s hard to tell who’s where,” Paso Robles coach Rich Schimke said. “If you’re a guy who looks at records, I’d say, yeah, there’s a lot of parity.”

Some answers might be hinted at when Paso Robles (3-3, 1-1) visits Righetti (4-2, 1-0) at Warrior Stadium in Santa Maria at 7:30 tonight.

“They beat the champions,” Schimke said of Righetti’s eyebrow-raising 13-3 win over the Greyhounds. “That’s something we want, too. We want to be right there (in contention). We know how important this game is.”

For the two contests prior to the Bearcats’ 35-10 tune-up win at Lompoc last week, they had been playing without third-year starting quarterback Thomas Bernal, a senior who was reportedly injured. Without him, the Bearcats lost six fumbles; in his return, they didn’t lose any, as he rushed for 101 yards on nine carries.

“He brings that calming influence with his experience,” Schimke said. “It was good for him to get rid of the rust.”

A relative constant for Paso Robles throughout has been its commanding offensive line, particularly along the interior anchored by center Kaleialoha Kalili and guards Eric Bilderback and Cole Thompson.

Operating out of a shotgun attack, senior running back Robbie Burbank has been the main beneficiary, taking 154 carries for an area-best 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“It’s evolving,” Schimke said of the Bearcats’ run blocking. “We’re blowing too many assignments, but the attitude is good. We’re not where we want to be, but it’s coming around.”

Pending a postseason run, Burbank’s numbers would put him on pace for more than 2,000 yards, almost rivaling the 1998 total of 2,397 by Brett Collins, believed to be the Paso Robles modern-day single-season standard.

Despite the individual statistical company that Burbank is keeping — he’s among the top 15 in rushing statewide — his priorities are in order, Schimke said.

“He’s a very humble kid,” he said. “He’s paid his dues.”

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Burbank will be running against a Warriors defense that has allowed just 10.7 points per game and is captained by fleet-of-foot linebackers Cody Berry and Brandon Escobedo, as well as playmaking free safety Matt Miller.

“They want to put pressure on you,” Schimke said of Righetti’s defense. “We have to answer back.”

Schimke feels the Bearcats’ chances of doing just that were strengthened by an arduous nonleague slate. Paso Robles’ five pre-league opponents are a combined 24-7, and the three who handed the Bearcats defeats — Westlake, St. Joseph and El Diamante — are No. 1 in each of their respective leagues early on.

“That’s why you prepare yourself in the preseason,” Schimke said with regard to the suddenly more crowded PAC 7 race. “If you’ve experienced tight, crucial situations against quality opponents, you can weather that storm better because of it.”