When the CIF-Southern Section realigned its football divisions this past offseason, the PAC 7 and the Los Padres League wondered how the initial year of change would play out come playoff time.
The two Central Coast leagues proved to be two of the toughest in their new-look Western and Northwestern divisions, sending a combined four teams on to their respective semifinals.
It was the first time since 1999 that three San Luis Obispo County teams made it that far all in the same season.
In the Western Division, PAC 7 champion Paso Robles (10-3) made it to the semifinal round for the first time since 2001, falling 41-23 at Junipero Serra High in Gardena. Arroyo Grande (11-3) advanced a round further, falling to Serra in the championship game, 35-10. It was the first trip to a divisional title contest for the Eagles since 2000.
In the Northwestern Division, Templeton (8-5) got its first playoff win since transitioning from the Central Section to the Southern Section before the 2006 season. The Eagles also picked up their first home Southern Section playoff win, falling only to South Torrance, 35-7, in the semifinals. South Torrance went on to lose in the title game to the LPL’s Lompoc, 20-14, on a goal-line stand in the closing moments.
Coupled with Atascadero’s 13-6 opening-round win over Ventura in the Western Division and Morro Bay’s 28-0 first-round Northwestern Division victory over Mary Star of San Pedro, it was the first time in at least 15 years that as many as five county teams all played in the quarterfinal round at once.
Santa Ynez also won a playoff game in the Northwestern Division, forging a historic 7-0 first-round sweep for the PAC 7 and LPL.
And the playoff losses came against elite teams throughout the region.
After its championship-game win over Arroyo Grande, Serra rose to No. 18 in the national rankings by both MaxPreps.com and ESPN RISE. The Cavaliers earned a return trip to a California prep bowl game but lost to Folsom.
Most of their key starters were back from 2009, including quarterback Conner Preston (who has committed to SMU), receiver George Farmer (to USC) and outside linebacker Jason Gibson (to Cal), not to mention a handful of others who will likely play at the Division I level — among them a Cal Poly recruit in running back Shaquille Richard.
Serra’s win over Arroyo Grande was its 29th overall in a row, then the longest ongoing streak in the state.
Both the PAC 7 schools can say they played Serra about as tough as anyone else in the section did.
Paso Robles outscored the Cavaliers 13-0 in the second half, and the Bearcats’ 23 points for the game were the most for a Serra opponent in a game all season until the loss to Folsom.
Arroyo Grande played Serra to a 7-7 tie in the second half, and was a week removed from a 52-19 semifinal win over Chaminade Prep of West Hills — which had already given Serra its biggest scare in a 35-21 loss during the regular season.
Both Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles finished in the top 45 in California, according to CalPreps.com’s statewide team ratings. The Eagles finished the year ranked No. 36, with the Bearcats at No. 42.