High School Sports

Prep Football: Atascadero looks to bounce back from rare defeat when it faces San Luis Obispo

For seniors on the Atascadero High football team, last week marked a first they’d rather forget.

The Greyhounds lost 13-3 to Righetti — just the program’s second PAC 7 league loss since 2005. Although the lone defeat during a 14-1 varsity stretch from 2006 through 2008 came in 2007, many of this year’s seniors entered this season looking to see their 15-0 freshman, JV and first-year varsity league run through to a complete 20-0.

Now that it didn’t happen, the three-time defending league champions’ goals have slightly refocused. Although an unbeaten league campaign is out of the picture, another postseason run isn’t. (After suffering the PAC 7 loss in 2007, the Greyhounds won out to share the league championship.)

“I think people as soon as we lost may have been like, ‘Atascadero’s not there anymore,’” Greyhounds senior receiver Gavin Cracknell said. “But we’re still here. And we need to prove that this week.”

They’ll get that chance when they visit San Luis Obispo at Holt Field at 7:30 tonight.

“We were down for a while,” Cracknell said of the mood after the loss. “But we’ve had to regroup this week. We just want to get into the playoffs now, because we know we’re a better team than that.”

Last week, the Greyhounds (4-2, 0-1) lost a first-quarter fumble that directly led to a Righetti touchdown. Despite gaining 257 yards in the game, they also squandered a handful of other drives that advanced deep into Warriors territory, coming away with only a field goal.

“We’re getting down field easily, but turnovers are killing us in the end,” Cracknell said.

The early stages of the game also saw the Greyhounds’ otherwise stingy defense get off to a slow start, allowing 10 first-quarter points and letting Warriors quarterback T.J. Jordan complete 10-of-11 passes in the first half. After the break, though, Jordan was just 2-of-7 passing.

“We just need to stop thinking about stuff too much,” Atascadero senior defensive lineman Kory McJunkins said of the slow start.His unit already had two second-half shutouts this season — first in a 33-21 win over Clovis East on Sept. 4 and then during a 35-21 win over Redwood of Visalia on Sept. 25.

San Luis Obispo (3-3, 1-1), coming off a 35-7 loss to Arroyo Grande, is in its first year of running a triple-option offense under first-year head coach David Kelley, and has fumbled 17 times, losing 12. Still, though, the Tigers have shown big-play ability, as speedy running back Nate Nunno has three touchdown runs of at least 53 yards and is averaging 7.9 yards per carry.

“If you blow your assignment one time,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said of defending the option, “they’ve got guys who’ll take it to the house in a heartbeat. They’ve got a couple guys that are probably faster than any guy on our team, and if they get a step on us, we’re not going to catch them.”

The game is homecoming for San Luis Obispo, which hasn’t topped Atascadero since 2004.

“Coach Kelley is trying to bring a new attitude to them, and a part of that is trying to take off the top dog,” Cooper said. “I’m sure Righetti stole a bit of their thunder, but I know this has been a game that’s been on their calendar since December.”

Given their three straight PAC 7 crowns, being targeted is nothing new for the Greyhounds, even in light of last week’s loss.

“That target’s a little smaller now after last week,” Cooper said, “but I’m sure they’re going to be all fired up to play us. So we’re going to have to come to play or we might have similar results.

“We never thought this would be a cakewalk,” he continued.

“We’re going to work like we’re still trying to win a league championship. Obviously, we’ve lost control of our own destiny, but a lot of things can happen over the next four weeks.”