Once the football was in the air, there were only two possible outcomes, and not many would likely wager against Atascadero High senior cornerback Troy Norris.
But San Luis Obispo senior receiver Mason Orradre all but negated the Central Coast interceptions leader on a fourth-down jumpball in the end zone from 15 yards out late in the fourth quarter that could have spurred the Tigers to a PAC 7 upset and put them right in the thick of playoff discussions.
Only, the ball flopped from Orradre’s grasp and fell harmlessly to the grass, sealing the Greyhounds’ 13-10 win at Holt Field on Friday night.
Now, San Luis Obispo (4-4, 2-2 PAC 7) is in a precarious CIF-Southern Section playoff position, while Atascadero (9-1, 4-1 PAC 7) is still in line to earn a piece of the conference crown.
“I should have caught it,” Orradre said. “I have to be a playmaker. That was my ball.”
San Luis Obispo quarterback Anthony Maez was hit as he released the throw but still executed perfect placement.
At 5-foot-11, Norris had blanket coverage in the right corner of the end zone, but the ball was high enough where only the 6-foot Orradre could make the catch.
Norris, who has eight interceptions this season and has already spurred player-of-the-year debates, only touched “the littlest part of the ball,” he said, “because he jumped over me.”
Orradre had four catches for 80 yards and helped set up the touchdown try with a 43-yard catch-and-run against Norris just moments earlier.
The matchup was contentious all night between Norris and Orradre, who came into the game leading the Tigers with 20 catches for 383 yards and five touchdowns.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like that,” Norris said of the one-on-one battles with Orradre, “but he’s a good receiver. I gained a lot of respect for him tonight.”
That final play, after which Atascadero was able to run out the clock, almost didn’t happen.
On fourth-and-4 from the 15-yard line and with only 2:25 left in the fourth quarter, all San Luis Obispo needed to tie the score was a 32-yard field goal from Tanner Kahn, who had already nailed a 35-yarder in the first quarter.
Kahn actually lined up for the field goal before Tigers coach David Kelley called timeout and brought the team together.
“Nick Butier a captain and a player I respect a whole bunch, he looked me right in the eye and he said he wanted to go for it,” Kelley said. “Then I asked the rest of the guys, and they said they wanted to go for it.”
“We could have played for overtime, but we got 23 kids, they got 50.”
As the Tigers came to the line, Atascadero coach Vic Cooper countered with his own timeout and sent his defensive backs out in press coverage, thinking San Luis Obispo would try to convert with a short pass.
That forced the Tigers to alter Orradre’s route from a hitch to a fade, and Cooper was not surprised to see San Luis Obispo attack Norris.
“That’s their best against our best,” Cooper said, “so, it was best on best.”
The Greyhounds took the lead on second-half touchdown runs of 1 and 3 yards by Tanner Thompson, who finished with 25 carries for 126 yards — all but 16 of which came after halftime.
San Luis Obispo’s run defense was stout in the first half, when the Tigers only allowed four Atascadero first downs. San Luis Obispo led 10-0 at the half on Kahn’s field goal and an 8-yard run up the middle by Butier.
But the wear-and-tear on the Tigers’ thin depth chart showed early in the third quarter, when Atascadero racked up four first downs on the opening drive and Thompson, Deonte Barnes and fullback Stetson Bullard began finding room to run.
Barnes carried six times for 48 yards, and Bullard added 39 yards on four touches.
“I did not necessarily think it was going to be easier in the second half,” Cooper said, “but that was the plan. We really want to be a grind-you-out team in the fourth quarter.”