“We did it! We did it!” Paso Robles High football players shouted Friday night, some of them breaking down into tears while they joyously mobbed each other.
The Bearcats burst into celebration after defeating Atascadero 14-13 at War Memorial Stadium in Paso Robles. It was the program’s first win over the perennial arch-rival Greyhounds since 2005.
Because Arroyo Grande lost to Righetti 25-21, however, Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles and Atascadero all finished 3-2 in PAC 7 league play. While two-way ties in the PAC 7 are broken by head-to-head matchups, three-way ties in the league are broken by random-chance preseason number drawings.
Righetti (8-2, 5-0) won the league title outright. Before the season, Atascadero (7-3) pulled the luckiest tiebreaking number, followed by Arroyo Grande (7-3) and then Paso Robles (5-5), meaning the Bearcats were the first PAC 7 team to be left out of the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs.
Just the same, though, Bearcats coach Rich Schimke, much like his players, reveled in the moment, as Paso Robles closed the season winning its final two league contests after a 1-2 start.
“I said our playoffs were starting two weeks ago,” Schimke said. “So I guess we made it to the third round.
“I’m just really proud of my seniors. They got a little monkey off their backs. They stuck with us through a lot of adversity,” Schimke said. “We had a bunch of our alumni here tonight, and they were so happy for the kids to put us back in the win column in the big rivalry game.”
Paso Robles suddenly broke a 7-7 tie on a 56-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jacob Searcy to sophomore receiver Elias Stokes with three minutes left in the third quarter.
Searcy, who was hammered to the turf on the play, didn’t have a clear view of it after he released the ball, but soon found out it had paid off.
“I realized it when the crowd went out of whack,” Searcy said. “I got picked up by one of my teammates and then I saw everyone celebrating in the end zone.”
The play wasn’t in the initial game plan, Schimke said, but was drawn up at halftime because a Greyhounds safety was overly biting on the run.
“It was a momentum shift,” Schimke said.
Right after that strike, though, the Greyhounds’ Troy Norris returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, but the point-after kick missed, leaving the Bearcats up by a single point. It was all they needed, thanks to a handful of defensive stands afterward.
“They played inspired football,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “That’s what high school football’s all about, right there.
“They came out and played with a lot of focus,” Cooper added. “They ground up the clock, and they deserved this.”
Bearcats running back Robbie Burbank finished with 65 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, while Jesse Felgenhauer added 50 yards on eight attempts.
Searcy finished 11-of-19 passing for 181 yards and the score. Stokes had four catches for 84 yards and the touchdown, and Burbank chipped in 58 yards on four receptions. Paso Robles linebacker David Katz finished with an interception and a sack.
Greyhounds running back Sterling Bullard tied the contest 7-7 with a 39-yard touchdown run with 9:26 left in the third.
Bullard finished with 135 yards and the touchdown on 21 carries. Whitten went 6-of-11 passing for 107 yards with an interception.
The Bearcats opened the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Burbank with 6:13 left in the first.
“I’m so happy right now. There were a lot of doubters, but inside the locker room, we knew we could win this,” Burbank said. “We played mistake-free football.”