Deontae Barnes hardly saw the field after fumbling the football away near his own end zone and leaving the game with an upset stomach.
But the way the Atascadero High’s senior running back set up the Greyhounds with a three-score lead in the first half Friday, Salinas coaches had their own heartburn to worry about.
Despite his third-quarter turnover, Barnes had a breakout game, a senior-laden offensive lineup helped a sophomore quarterback have a successful varsity debut and Atascadero opened the season with a 38-14 victory, its second straight season-opening win over the Cowboys.
“I’m just hungry,” said Barnes, who ran for 645 yards and five touchdowns in a reserve role last season. “All those practices, two-a-days, I was just ready to come out and play a different team, hit a different color.
“Tonight was a good experience. We have to try to keep wining games. That’s pretty much it.”
Barnes ran 12 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns and turned a screen into a 71-yard touchdown pass — the first of sophomore quarterback Robbie Berwick’s varsity career.
Back-to-back three-and-outs forced by the Atascadero defense gave the Greyhounds excellent field position, and after senior linebacker Davis Cracknell made a third-down stop in the Salinas backfield, Barnes scored his third touchdown of the game on the screen pass to put the Cowboys behind 21-0 in the second quarter.
Atascadero went on to lead 31-0 at the half.
“We set the tone with special teams and defense,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said, “and they gave us some great field position, and Deontae took over there for a while. He had a great night, the veteran line showed up and we got some things done.”
After leading the freshman team to a 10-0 record last season, Berwick, the only underclassman starting on offense, kept his perfect winning record intact, even if he is still adjusting to the varsity level.
Berwick was 8-of-14 passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 29 yards. Berwick, who also played a role on Atascadero’s varsity boys basketball team as a freshman, might have had more yards and touchdowns if not for a couple of drops and errant throws to open receivers.
“There’s lots of things to work on,” Cooper said. “He’s a great kid, and he’s a phenomenal athlete. We need to sound up a lot of fundamentals, and that’s just going to take time.
“I don’t know if I can give you a grade without watching film, but I think we win 38-14, that’s what quarterbacks are judged on, wins and losses. If you judge that way, it’s pretty darn A-plus.”
Said Barnes: Berwick “scrambled well. He stepped up. He was probably a little nervous in the beginning, but he just stepped up and played his role. Now, he just has to carry it over.”
Last year’s 35-7 win in Salinas kicked off a five-game winning streak for Atascadero, and the Greyhounds also got off to an early three-score lead in that game.
This year, Barnes punched in a 1-yard run to cap the team’s first drive after fullback Joseph Aguiar’s diving 14-yard run came up just short of the goal.
Barnes scored from 22 yards out on the Greyhounds’ next possession, and the score gave Atascadero some breathing room. Berwick’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Logan Sprouse, coupled with a 30-yard field goal by Clarke Ball as time expired in the half, made it 31-0.
Salinas seemed to get its option offense going late in the first quarter but could not capitalize. After gaining their first first down with 2:22 left in the first quarter, the Cowboys converted five straight first downs while marching into Atascadero territory on their third drive of the game.
But on third-and-5 from the Greyhounds’ 26-yard line, Cracknell burst through the line to stuff Salinas’ Beau Schuler for a 4-yard loss.
It forced a missed 47-yard field goal attempt by Cowboys kicker Alberto Farias.
Cracknell came up big again later in the half, picking off Salinas quarterback Matt Leighton on the first play from scrimmage following Sprouse’s touchdown catch.
Berwick nearly hit Sprouse in the end zone again, but Atascadero settled for Ball’s field goal after the ball bounced out of the receiver’s grasp on an over-the-shoulder catch attempt.
Cracknell “is a good athlete. He’s a good football player,” Cooper said. “He played his assignments well, and on defense, our linebacking corps is pretty solid.”