High School Sports

Atascadero slugs out playoff victory over Ventura

Atascadero High’s Tanner Thompson is tackled by Ventura’s A.J. Coccillos during their CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoff game Friday night. Thompson scored a touchdown in the first half.
Atascadero High’s Tanner Thompson is tackled by Ventura’s A.J. Coccillos during their CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoff game Friday night. Thompson scored a touchdown in the first half. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Whichever weather forecast Tanner Thompson tuned into turned out to be all wet.

The Atascadero High senior running back saw predictions of a 10 percent chance of precipitation prior to Friday’s first-round CIF-Southern Section Western Division football playoff game with visiting Ventura.

Rain ended up falling during 100 percent of the game, and along with a soggy field, it helped conspire with the Greyhounds’ defense to all but shut out a potent Cougars offense in a 13-6 win that sends Atascadero (9-2) to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

And though Thompson might not have brought his umbrella to Memorial Stadium, he appeared more prepared than anyone.

Despite a knee injury that knocked him out of the game in the third quarter, Thompson finished with 157 rushing yards, including a 70-yard touchdown, on 14 carries and had a few other lengthy runs called back by penalties.

“This is my first time ever playing in the rain,” Thompson said. “I was just trying to keep my feet under me and just slow down a little bit, make those cuts. As soon as it started raining I was like, ‘I gotta keep my feet under me and just keep them moving.’ ”

A week after hurting his groin, Thompson had to be helped off the field, favoring his left knee. He later returned in the fourth quarter, when Ventura (6-5) was making a last-gasp effort to tie or take the lead, and he said he will be available for next week’s game at Chaminade.

Deonte Barnes rushed for 99 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown, on 20 carries in relief.

In addition to expected dry conditions, Thompson might also have thought that the outcome would come down to the Greyhounds’ defense. It did, but with a lot fewer points on the scoreboard than expected.

“We thought it would be a lot more points scored,” Thompson said, “because they were putting up a lot of numbers. We’ve been putting up a lot of numbers. We knew it was going to be what defense could stop the offense.”

Ventura, which plays on an artificial turf field and against opponents who primarily own similar facilities, came into the game averaging 38.9 points per game, and the Cougars hadn’t been held under 20 all season.

Running back Connor Armstrong had 1,404 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns coming in. Quarterback Keihan Gibbs, making his return to the lineup from a concussion, had passed for 18 touchdowns.

Atascadero held Armstrong to just 56 yards on 17 carries, and Gibbs had a nightmarish game. He slipped for a 5-yard loss on the third play from scrimmage and struggled all night to find his footing in the mud.

After Barnes’ touchdown put Atascadero ahead 13-0 with 27.2 seconds left in the first quarter, Ventura had just 1 yard from scrimmage and punted four times.

Gibbs was off the mark on his first 10 pass attempts and finished 6 of 22 for 134 yards — 84 of which came on a five-play, three-minute touchdown drive with 8:06 left in the game where he was 4 of 4.

Ventura got the ball back two more times with chances to either tie or take the lead with a touchdown and conversion, but the Cougars chose to punt away on fourth-and-7 from their own 30 with 4:16 remaining, and Gibbs fumbled a pass attempt in Atascadero territory on a final play that started with 0.3 seconds left.

The victory helped take the sting away from last week’s 34-7 loss to Paso Robles in the regular-season finale. Now that all three PAC 7 teams have moved on in the playoffs, Atascadero coach Vic Cooper is thinking his team might be able to make a run.

“It’s a wide-open division,” Cooper said. “When you look at it, there’s not a lot of people that have made big playoff runs. Besides Serra, there’s no one really who’s made a big playoff run in the last five years. So, why not us?”

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