By winning the PAC 7 championship outright two weeks ago, the Paso Robles High football team set itself up well heading into the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs.
The Bearcats lived up to their No. 4 seeding Friday night, using a 21-0 first-quarter lead to defeat Inglewood 35-21 at War Memorial Stadium. It gave Paso Robles (10-2) its first trip to a divisional semifinal since 2001.
“We’ve been waiting for this our whole lives,” senior running back Jesse Felgenhauer said. “So we’re just super-excited we’re going to the semifinals.”
The win sets up a matchup next week at top-seeded Serra of Gardena. The Cavaliers (12-0) are ranked as a top-10 team in the state and have a handful of major Division I college recruits, including receiver George Farmer, widely rated as the best at his position nationally.
“We’ve got a tough task against Serra next week,” Felgenhauer said. “They’re full of D-I recruits, and they’re going to be hard to stop.”A year ago, Serra won a state bowl title after claiming the Northwest Division championship.
“What have they got, 27, 28 wins in a row?” Paso Robles coach Rich Schimke said of the Cavaliers, who advanced to the semifinals with a 40-7 win over Camarillo. “They’re putting up incredible numbers. We were the 4 seed coming in, they were the 1, and we’re meeting them now in the semis.”
On Friday, Felgenhauer rushed for 180 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and caught four passes for 41 yards.
Paso Robles quarterback Jacob Searcy was13-of-24 passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Bearcats receiver Elias Stokes caught five passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns, had a 7-yard scoring run, returned a kickoff 48 yards and ran back a punt 23 yards.
Stokes’ first touchdown grab was a leaping catch over his left shoulder, and he dove to come up with the second one in the back of the end zone, upping his overall season TD total to 28.
The Sentinels (9-3) have two of the heaviest-recruited receivers on the West Coast in Patrick Onwuasor and Derrick Woods. Onwuasor caught six passes for 111 yards in the season-ending loss, while Woods had five catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Bo Bonnheim and Matt Sepulveda each had half of a sack for the Bearcats, who had opened the postseason with a 21-6 home win over Oxnard.
“We played really well in the first half,” Paso Robles defensive back Jake Rodriguez said. “On defense, we need to step up next week for more.”
Schimke and Bearcats players said they were disappointed with going scoreless in the second quarter, and with how they finished with 12 penalties for the game.
It followed a lightning-quick start by Paso Robles, which went up 7-0 just 59 seconds into the game on a five-play drive.
“We jumped on them early,” Schimke said. “And then we spit and sputtered on offense — bad snaps, penalties, delays of game, all of the above.”
After Woods had a 47-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown midway through the third quarter, though, the Bearcats re-established their three-possession lead 16 seconds before the start of the fourth.
“That was big,” Schimke said. “If they go up (the field) again, it’s 21-14, and you never know what’s going to happen. To answer that call was big.
“They were big, fast and physical. I’m happy we’re moving on, and I’m proud of the guys.”