The Arroyo Grande High football redemption tour continues.
Already off to their best start in six years, the Eagles defeated Paso Robles for the first time since 2006 on Friday night, 26-10 at War Memorial Stadium in Paso Robles.
It was the latest mark of improvement for Arroyo Grande (7-1, 3-0 PAC 7), which lost to the Bearcats 34-0 last season. Paso Robles (3-5, 1-2 PAC 7) was last year’s PAC 7 runner-up and in 2007 shared the league title with Atascadero — which, fittingly, the Eagles will visit next week before the regular-season finale against Righetti.
“We’ve done nothing but improve this year,” Eagles senior receiver and defensive back John Alexander said. “That was a big game, and now we’re looking forward to playing Atascadero and Righetti. It kind of proved what kind of caliber team we really are.”
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Arroyo Grande running back Russell Perkins, a transfer from St. Joseph, rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries behind a massive offensive line featuring two seniors — Sean Brown and Tanner Hinek — who measure no shorter than 6-foot-6 and each tip the scales at more than 285 pounds. The front also features seniors in center Zach Melson and guard Robert Kobara.
“Paso is known throughout this area for just being a tough, beat-you-up football team,” Perkins said. “This is a statement, because Paso is an awesome team. We’re just trying to bring back this program to what it used to be.”
Arroyo Grande claimed four CIF-Southern Section divisional championships from 1987 to 1998 before falling on hard times of late. Friday’s game left Eagles coach Tom Goossen reminiscent.
“That was a hard-hitting game,” he said. “That was a game that, really, we played 10, 20 years ago.
“The amount of time that was put in in the weight room and all those hours we asked of (the players) to go above and beyond — they’re seeing a little bit of that come through,” Goossen added.
Bearcats running back Robbie Burbank had an 80-yard touchdown run with 6:39 left in regulation to cut the lead to 23-10.
Arroyo Grande, though, recovered an onside kick and then saw quarterback Matt McAustin connect with tight end Kelly Shepard for a 43-yard gain that set up a 22-yard Garrett Owens field goal that provided the margin of victory with 4:27 remaining.
Paso Robles, which trailed 16-3 at halftime, unsuccessfully tried a fake punt midway through the third quarter, letting the Eagles take over at the Bearcats 46-yard line. After a 31-yard hookup between McAustin and receiver Lataurus Johnson, Perkins scored on a 1-yard run with 5:50 left in the period for a 23-3 lead.
“Russell is kind of a hammer inside, and he can carry people a few yards,” Goossen said.
The Eagles pulled ahead 9-0 in the first before Paso Robles had even run an offensive play. At the end of the opening drive, Perkins punched in a 12-yard touchdown run for a 6-0 lead, as the PAT failed.
Paso Robles fumbled the ensuing kickoff, allowing Arroyo Grande to recover at the Bearcats 15-yard line. After a quick three-and-out, Owens kicked a 29-yard field goal for the 9-0 lead with 4:48 left in the period.
In the second, Arroyo Grande’s Seth Jacobs made a diving interception to set up a drive that culminated in a 4-yard touchdown lob from McAustin to Shepard to give the Eagles a 16-0 advantage 4:24 before the break.
Late in the half, Paso Robles drove deep into Arroyo Grande territory, and appeared to post a touchdown on an 11-yard pass from quarterback Thomas Bernal to receiver Elias Stokes, but the play was called back on a holding penalty. Jacob Bedell then made a 38-yard field goal to cut the lead to 16-3.
Bernal finished 8-of-24 passing for 69 yards with an interception, as several of the incompletions were dropped. Late in the third, he was replaced by junior Jacob Searcy after heading to the sideline to have his left shoulder iced.
Burbank finished with 142 yards and the score on 15 attempts.
Christian Crichton added 63 rushing yards on 15 carries for Arroyo Grande. McAustin finished 5-of-11 passing for 96 yards and the touchdown.
What do the Eagles think of next week and Atascadero, the three-time defending league champion, which the Eagles haven’t beaten since 2005?
“That would be awesome,” Perkins said of the significance of another win in the North County. “Atascadero, the past couple years, has been the team around the area.”