Are you ready for some tiebreakers?
In 2007 and 2008, the Atascadero-Paso Robles high football game annually scheduled for the last week of the regular season decided the PAC 7 league champion all by its lonesome.
Now, Righetti (7-2, 4-0) enters the finale with hopes of seizing an outright title, while two others — Arroyo Grande (7-2, 3-1) and Atascadero (7-2, 3-1) — enter with hopes of earning a share of the crown. Paso Robles (4-5, 2-2), meanwhile, enters hoping to grab a playoff berth.
It will all be decided tonight, when Righetti visits Arroyo Grande and Atascadero travels to Paso Robles. The top three advance to the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs.
In the PAC 7, head-to-head matchups break any two-way ties, but any three-way ties are broken through preseason random-chance number drawings. This preseason, Atascadero pulled the best number out of the bunch, followed by Arroyo Grande, Righetti and Paso Robles.
Righetti and Arroyo Grande have already clinched playoff berths.
Atascadero needs either a win or an Arroyo Grande loss to advance but would share the league title with a win and an Arroyo Grande win.
The only way Paso Robles can punch a ticket to the postseason is to top Atascadero and have Arroyo Grande upstage Righetti. In that situation, Righetti and Arroyo Grande, each 4-1, would qualify. Of the two 3-2 teams left fighting for the third playoff berth, Paso Robles would then have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Atascadero.
“It’s a testament to just how solid and balanced our league is,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “For local fans in the area to have so many things riding on the last game of year, how great is that?”
EAGLES’ CRICHTON LIKELY A GAME-TIME DECISION
The Eagles suffered their first lopsided defeat of the season last week, falling 37-14 at Atascadero. They were playing without their leading rusher, injured running back Christian Crichton, who Goossen said will be a game-time decision tonight.
Righetti, meanwhile, has used a multi-faceted offense sparked by running back Michael Hale and receiver Matt Miller to propel itself beyond its stature the past three years, when the Warriors finished either third or fourth in the league.
“Their running game has been really good,” Goossen said, “but they’re able to save Miller for when they need a big play over the top, and they can really hurt you.”
Earlier this year, the Eagles were able to quickly regroup after a 28-21, sudden-death loss in overtime to Pioneer Valley, proceeding to win five in a row.
“Every week we approach every game as its own little entity,” Goossen said of bouncing back. “This week has been no different.”
GREYHOUNDS AND BEARCATS NOT STRANGERS
Tiebreakers and playoff scenarios aside, the Atascadero-Paso Robles meeting always comes with enough built-in intrigue.
“Our kids know each other,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “There really is that boundary along the Cuesta grade. The kids who live North of the grade have that bond and have played with each other or against each other.
"When we play a game against Arroyo Grande or Righetti, they don’t know who the other kids are. When we get in this game, I don’t have to say, ‘No. 70 is 6-foot-1, 270 pounds; he’s pretty good.’ They know who they are.”
Atascadero has claimed three straight installments of the rivalry. Prior to that, Paso Robles had won eight in a row.“There are very different kinds of rivalries,” Cooper continued. “Some are the type where the two teams hate each other and can’t wait to beat the crud out of each other. This is one of them where I kind of equate it to a couple of brothers, where maybe if you’re watching your brother play against someone else, you’re hoping he wins. But when it’s brother against brother, there’s nothing you want more than to beat him.”
After opening the season 4-2 and suffering their second league loss since 2005, the Greyhounds have reeled off three straight victories. Atascadero is rushing for 266.7 yards and nearly four touchdowns per game, and has shut out opponents in the second half four times this year.
Paso Robles, meanwhile, has rushed for 270.8 yards and nearly three scores per contest. The Bearcats offense has had to adjust to playing without quarterback Thomas Bernal, a third-year starter who injured his non-throwing shoulder two weeks ago.
In his place, junior signalcaller Jacob Searcy — who saw action earlier in the season, as well — has gone 2-1 as a starter.
“Tommy’s done a great job with the adversity he’s faced in helping Jake with what to expect,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke said.
The Bearcats’ nonleague losses came to teams now a combined 26-1, and one of the league defeats — 22-16 at Righetti — went down to the final minute of play. They had arguably their most complete performance of the season a week ago, throttling San Luis Obispo 62-7.
“There’s more hoopla that goes along with it,” Schimke said of the Atascadero game.
“But we looked at last week as a playoff game, too. We’re playing good football right now. We’ve faced a lot of adversity, but we liked the way we played last week, and we hope to build on that. The kids are ready to play.”
BEARCATS ASSISTANT SUSPENDED
Paso Robles will be without part-time volunteer assistant coach Steven Smith, who was arrested Saturday for allegedly shooting a pregnant woman Nov. 6. Smith pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to two counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary. He has been suspended from his duties with the school and remains in County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.