Everything was simple, and nothing was fancy for the Atascadero High football team Friday night. That’s just the way the Greyhounds like it.
A week after the program suffered just its second PAC 7 league defeat since 2005, 13-3 to Righetti, Atascadero spoiled San Luis Obispo’s homecoming at Holt Field, getting its first league win, 28-6.
“This definitely felt like Atascadero football,” Greyhounds running back Sterling Bullard said. “We needed this win. It got everybody’s hopes up again. They were kind of down after the loss to Righetti, but this definitely got everybody moving forward.”
In winning the past three PAC 7 titles, the Greyhounds have established a straightforward approach coupling power running with an aggressive defense. They found both against the Tigers, rushing for 222 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries and forcing four turnovers.
“I think we’re finally finding our identity of hard-nosed football on the offensive side, with long, sustained drives, and on the defensive side, playing hard, physical football,” Atascadero linebacker Evan Hicks said. “It was good for us to finally find that to keep going in the PAC 7 and into the playoffs.”
The most sustained drive of all took place midway through the third quarter. After taking over at its own 29-yard line, Atascadero (5-2, 1-1) marched 71 yards to paydirt — all on running plays — as Bullard polished off the drive with a 9-yard score that provided the final margin of victory with 48 seconds remaining in the period.
“Without the offensive line, we’re nothing,” Bullard said. “They were the key to that drive.”
San Luis Obispo’s defense, however, did force three Atascadero punts and came up with two turnovers of its own.
“That team is vastly improved from what we saw from them earlier in the year,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said of San Luis Obispo. “Every time I felt like we were going to bust one here or bust one there, there was a safety sitting there making a tackle.
“They’re a good tackling team, and that’s what you’ve got to do against a good tackling team — you’re not going to bust a run. You’ve got to sustain drives.”
Atascadero quarterback Jesse Whitten finished 1-of-8 passing for 4 yards with two interceptions — both of which were grabbed by the Tigers’ Josh James.
Bullard ran for a game-high 79 yards and the touchdown on 16 attempts.
“People are going to fill the box,” Cooper said of opponents’ possible defensive reaction the rest of the year. “If we’re going to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves, we’ve got to get better in the passing game.”
Atascadero led 21-6 at halftime. The Tigers lost a fumble on the game’s second play from scrimmage, and Atascadero’s Spencer Ruggles returned it 30 yards for the first score just 38 seconds into the contest.
San Luis Obispo (3-4, 1-2) lost three fumbles on the night — one on a botched punt — bringing its seven-game total of lost fumbles to 15.
Atascadero went ahead 14-0 with 6:21 remaining in the opening period as Tanner Kuhnle got into the end zone on a 4-yard run, capping a drive that included carries of 13 and 17 yards by Bullard.
With 10:01 remaining in the half, Tigers running back Nate Nunno weaved in and out of would-be tacklers for a 9-yard scoring run to cut the lead to 14-6, as the point-after attempt failed on a high snap.
Then Whitten took a keeper around his right tackle for a 69-yard touchdown run that pushed the lead to 21-6 with 9:07 left before the break.
Tigers starting quarterback Anthony Maez was 8-of-19 passing for 55 yards. James had 54 yards receiving.