For the first time this decade, all San Luis Obispo County high school football fans will have to hit the road to catch one of their teams’ CIF-Southern Section first-round playoff games.
Over the past nine seasons, at least two county teams opened the section’s postseason at home every year. Twice, three teams did, and in 2001, four schools began the playoffs on their home fields. Not this time around.
In the Northern Division, at 7 tonight, Atascadero (7-3), the No. 2 seed from the PAC 7 league, will visit Buena of Ventura (8-2), the Channel League’s No. 2 representative, while the PAC 7’s No. 3, Arroyo Grande (7-3), will head to Camarillo (9-1), the Pacific View champion.
“This is unusual,” 24th-year Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said of all the section’s county representatives traveling.
A daunting division awaits
From 1993 to 2001, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo combined to win 11 divisional championships — seven of which came in Division IX or X. In recent years, however, after all four shifted to Division IV (the Northern Division), such dynasties have been hard to come by. The dry spell of divisional crowns has coincided with the continued rise of regional powerhouses such as St. Bonaventure, Westlake, Hart, Moorpark and Valencia, among others who draw from population bases broader than San Luis Obispo County teams.
“In this division, there are no easy games,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “(Leagues’) third-place teams in this division are really good teams, and that’s evidenced by Arroyo Grande (being a third seed).”
Greyhounds look to play with consistency
Last week, Atascadero fell to archrival Paso Robles for the first time since 2005, 14-13, in a heartbreaker that included a missed extra point.
“It was a very tough loss,” Cooper said. “But by Monday’s practice, we had put it behind us, and we’re looking forward.”
The Greyhounds entered the season having won three straight PAC 7 titles during a stretch in which they lost just one league game. But they enter the playoffs coming off a performance in which they failed to score four touchdowns for the first time in nearly a month.
Strangely, the loss came on the heels of arguably their most complete game of the season, a 37-14 trouncing of Arroyo Grande on Nov. 6. Atascadero has shown flashes of brilliance defensively, posting four second-half shutouts — but those efforts followed halves in which they gave up an uncharacteristic 62 points.
“It’s not a mystery,” Cooper said of the inconsistency. “When you watch the film, you see exactly what’s wrong.”
Unable to secure key stops during prolonged Paso Robles drives last week, the Greyhounds ran fewer offensive series than they’re accustomed to.
“When you have that few possessions, you’ve got to be precise in what you do, and we weren’t,” Cooper said.
The Buena offense features 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end Tyler Perry, who has committed to Oregon State. He has 40 catches for 513 yards and seven scores. On defense, Buena has amassed 21 sacks and forced 20 turnovers.
“Defensively, they’re very aggressive,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to be able to handle that pressure.”
Taking fairly lengthy road trips is nothing new for Atascadero, which, in light of its recent success, has found recurrent difficulty in finding willing sparring partners from northern Santa Barbara County in nonleague play. Nor is taking on Ventura County-area foes new. Earlier this year, the Greyhounds topped Hueneme 29-21.
“We set up our preseason schedule like that to get us ready for the playoffs,” Cooper said. “With the road trips we’ve had in certain years, we’re able to travel well. Nothing really surprises us.”
Eagles, back in postseason for first time since 2005, face pass-happy offense
Camarillo’s passing game has at times looked like one of the best in the state — ever — exemplifying the current difficulty of the division.
Two weeks ago, in a 69-20 win over Hueneme, Camarillo quarterback Jeff Matthews, a 6-4, 231-pound senior, was 33-of-48 passing for six touchdowns and 588 yards — the fourth-most in the history of California.
“We’re going to have our hands full defensively. There’s no doubt about it,” Goossen said.
As historically has been the case for Arroyo Grande, the Eagles offense has been led by a smash-mouth running game that has produced a pair of 600-plus-yard rushers in running backs Christian Crichton and Russell Perkins. This Arroyo Grande unit, however, has had its moments through the air, as well. First-year starting quarterback Matt McAustin is 90-of-175 passing for 1,380 yards and 11 scores with 10 interceptions; five different receivers have caught at least 10 passes.
Arroyo Grande let a 21-12 halftime lead slip away last week, falling 25-21 to PAC 7 champion Righetti (8-2, 5-0).“It was a heartbreaking loss,” Goossen said, “but our team has been resilient all year.”
The Eagles, who earlier this year bounced back from a 28-21 overtime loss to Pioneer Valley by winning five in a row, are in the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been in the playoffs,” Goossen said, “and it’s an honor to represent our school and league.”