At the end of October, the Arroyo Grande High football team’s season had reached a crossroad.
The Eagles had just lost to eventual PAC 7 champion Paso Robles, 14-10, in an all-time classic game that was decided on a goal-line stand with less than a minute to play.
Then at 3-2 in the league standings, with a bye week directly ahead, followed by a regular-season finale against improved arch-rival San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande knew it was on the outside looking in at the PAC 7’s two guaranteed playoff berths.
But the Eagles haven’t looked back at all, playing their best football of the season over the past three weeks.
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First, they beat the Tigers 42-6, which all but assured them of an at-large bid to the postseason. Once there, they eliminated Rio Mesa in Oxnard, 27-20, before ousting second-seeded Dominguez of Compton 17-7 last week.
In doing so, Arroyo Grande (10-2) has put itself in the CIF-Southern Section Western Division semifinals, in which they’ll host Chaminade of West Hills at 7 Saturday night at Doug Hitchen Stadium.
It’s the first time the Eagles have made it this far since 2000.
“I told the kids, it’s great for us to be able to play football in December,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “At this time of year, there are not many high school teams playing football, and they’re one of the select few. That’s something to be proud of.
“They’re anxious for Saturday to roll around and to see just how well we can play against an excellent team.”
Chaminade (11-1) has lost only to top-seeded Serra of Gardena, 35-21, and last week got past Atascadero, 37-19, in a game that was close at 21-19 after three quarters.
Arroyo Grande’s recent run as an at-large team has been widely regarded as a testament to the overall strength of the PAC 7, which has been rated all season as the second-best league in the Western Division, behind only the Mission League (which fittingly accounts for the other two teams remaining).
“I’m proud of our league and the way we’ve represented,” Paso Robles coach Rich Schimke said earlier this week. “My hat’s off to coach Goossen and his staff. And seeing the scores with (Atascadero) against Chaminade being right there in the third quarter, I’m really proud of the PAC 7.”
Of the way his team has responded over the past month, Goossen said: “I think we grew as a team this year. I told the kids last week that there are no underclassmen on this team anymore. We’ve played enough games where all of them are seasoned veterans by this time.”
Junior quarterback Brent Vanderveen has passed for 1,240 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions and is averaging 81 rushing yards over his past four games.
Receivers L.T. Johnson, Garrett Owens and Jordan Morrison, as well as tight end Kelly Shepard, have all had productive seasons for Arroyo Grande, while running back Christian Crichton is a catalyst for the offense, having rushed for 1,128 yards and nine scores on 183 carries.
Defensively, Arroyo Grande has given up fewer than 12 points per game.
Linebacker Henry Adelman has a team-best 99 tackles, while defensive end Brandan Kubel has 84. Aaron Ley also has nine sacks from his linebacker spot. At safety, Seth Jacobs has 83 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, while fellow defensive backs Garrett Coleman and Derek Johnson each have picked off three passes.
This game also features two of the elite kickers in the nation.
Chaminade’s Matt Goudis, rated by Scout.com as the fifth-best senior kicker in the country, has committed to Boise State, while Owens is ranked by former UCLA kicker Chris Sailer as the No. 4 junior kicker.
Against the Greyhounds last week, Chaminade got 165 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries from running back Terrell Newby, running behind a line featuring Taylor Hindy, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound junior receiving interest from USC and UCLA, among others, according to Rivals.com.
Additionally, three Chaminade players have at least 17 catches on the season operating out of what Goossen called a “very multidimensional” offense.