The way Nipomo High football coach Russ Edwards talks about Eric Penningroth, he might sound like a quarterback.
“He’s not just book smart,” Edwards said of Penningroth, a running back for the Titans who keeps a 4.2 GPA off the field. “He’s smart in the sense that you can explain coverage to him — what his reads are and what he’s looking for. And you only have to explain it to him once.”
In Nipomo’s 37-14 Los Padres League win over Cabrillo on Friday, Penningroth had a touchdown running, passing and receiving — all in the first half — becoming the first player in the history of the 7-year-old program to accomplish the feat.
Operating out of a backfield similar to the wildcat formation popularized by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior finished with 173 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, was 3-of-3 passing for 13 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 77 yards and two more scores before being pulled early in the third quarter of the blowout.
While Penningroth, who also ran in a two-point conversion and threw for another, was already accustomed to taking direct snaps in the Titans’ single-wing PAT formation, Edwards had to explore temporarily reshaping the offense two weeks ago.
Starting quarterback Josh Correia, a traditional drop-back signal-caller and the Central Coast’s leading passer, had an emergency appendectomy two days before the Titans’ Oct. 16 game against St. Joseph, forcing Edwards to scramble to find an answer.
“My first thought was, ‘What are we going to do on offense?’” Penningroth said. Thinking of his experience taking snaps after touchdowns, Penningroth joked with his mom that he might be throwing more often. “She was like, ‘Be careful what you wish for,’” he laughed.
“We tried to stretch the field horizontally rather than vertically,” Edwards explained of installing the wildcat. With just two days of practice, though, the first trial resulted in a 41-0 loss to the Knights, ranked third in the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division.
On Friday, however, the full week of reps paid off.
For the season, Penningroth has 157 carries for 1,116 yards and five touchdowns — third in the division, behind only Cal Poly recruit K.J. Cusack of St. Joseph and UCLA-bound Malcolm Jones of Oaks Christian.
“He’s very shifty and hard to get a solid hit on,” Edwards said. “This season, he’s taken maybe two or three solid hits.”
Penningroth’s running presence opened up the deep-threat passing of Correia, who was cleared last week, Edwards said, and will be able to play Friday night when the Titans host Santa Ynez.
In addition to Santa Ynez (5-2, 3-1), which is ranked No. 8 in the division, 10th-ranked Nipomo (4-3, 2-2) also has an LPL game left against No. 9 Templeton (5-2, 2-2) in each team’s regular-season finale Nov. 13. At the top of the LPL are St. Joseph (7-0, 5-0) and sixth-ranked Pioneer Valley (6-1, 3-1).
“We pretty much have to win out to take third,” Penningroth said. “It’s going to be competitive.”
OTHER SOUTHERN SECTION RANKINGSFootball: Arroyo Grande (6-1) rose from No. 6 to No. 5 in Monday’s Northern Division poll, while Atascadero (5-2) remained ninth.
Boys water polo: Arroyo Grande (13-6) fell from No. 5 in Division IV to No. 8.
Girls tennis: San Luis Obispo (11-1) stayed at No. 6 in Division III.
Cross country: Morro Bay’s boys squad again checked in at No. 2 in Division IV, while on the girls side, Morro Bay stayed at No. 7, with Templeton at No. 8.
Girls volleyball: Arroyo Grande (15-2) jumped from eighth to seventh in Division I-A.