While Lompoc High looked like the clear-cut favorite to repeat as the Los Padres League champion at the start of this football season, the league’s three other playoff spots seemed as up-for-grabs as ever.
Although a month’s worth of regular-season games remain, Templeton may have taken a big step last week toward returning to the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division postseason.
The Eagles (3-3, 1-1) beat Santa Ynez (3-3, 1-2) 16-6 in a home game between two schools that tied for second place in the LPL standings a year ago. Coming into the game, the Pirates were ranked No. 7 in the division, but with the win, Templeton moved into that slot, up from No. 9 the previous week.
“It was a big game, a big turning point for us, I think,” first-year head coach Dan Loney said. “Just the way that our guys are working and the way that they’re starting to believe in each other, it was just a matter of time before some of these guys started to step up and feel comfortable.”
The win came after a bye week that followed a 28-21 loss Sept. 30 at Cabrillo (6-1, 3-0), the fifth-ranked team in the division.
“I think we left Cabrillo knowing that we probably let that one slip away,” Loney said. “We didn’t play as well as we should’ve in that Cabrillo game, and so we really wanted to make a point (against Santa Ynez) coming off a bye.”
In the near-shutout a week ago, Templeton had four takeaways, including three interceptions by senior safety Cameron Silzer. Silzer’s hat trick of picks is tied with Atascadero senior Logan Sprouse (on Sept. 23 vs. Seaside) for the single-game high this season among San Luis Obispo County players.
“A big part of that was containing the quarterback,” said senior Casey Dakin, an end on defense and a tackle on offense. “Our defensive ends kept an eye on him and kept him in the pocket. Cameron Silzer did a great job keying and picking off those passes, and the linebackers did a great job blitzing and got good pressure up the middle.
“Individually, we still have a ways to go, but as a unit we all came together and did our jobs,” Dakin said.
Loney described the opening stretch of the schedule (which included a game against the second-ranked Western Division team, Arroyo Grande, and another against a second PAC 7 playoff contender, Righetti) as “more of a learning period.”
Coming into this season, the Eagles welcomed former longtime Paso Robles defensive coordinator Tim Alvord onto their staff.
“Coach Alvord’s done a great job,” Dakin said. “He’s getting us in the right places at the right times and is getting us into the right coverages. He really does his homework.”
In their wins, the Eagles have given up an average of fewer than seven points per game.
“That’s what they’ve been doing for us all year,” Loney said, “and as we start to jell a little bit more on offense, I hope that we can start scoring a little bit more points and helping the defense out.”
Running back Matt Arace has been a consistent bright spot all season.
In contrast to the more bruising running of last year’s leading rusher, Hawaii signee Tyler Gray, the first thing noticed about the 5-foot-8, 155-pound Arace is his speed. A junior, Arace was clocked at close to 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash this past summer, Loney said.
“He’s super-quick,” Loney said. “Watching him on the JV level (in 2010), I knew he was going to be big for us this year.”
Arace has rushed for 624 yards and six touchdowns on 100 carries so far.
“It’s just mostly the offensive line,” Arace said. “I just stay behind them; they make it easy.”
In addition to Dakin, junior Ross Berry is also a standout in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They make an especially formidable tandem on the right side on offense.
“Those guys are dominant guys,” Loney said. “In my opinion, they should be up there with any of the other linemen on the Central Coast.”
Alex Elterman and Andy Garretson opened the season splitting time at quarterback. Last week, though, the Eagles went to Elterman full-time under center. The junior, called by Loney “a natural leader,” went 6-of-10 passing for 80 yards with no turnovers.
Garretson, a 6-foot-5 junior who earned all-league first-team honors in basketball as a sophomore, is expected to see more time at receiver now.
The Eagles will host Santa Maria (1-4, 0-3) at 7 tonight.
The following week, they’ll travel to take on the Braves (6-0, 2-0), the defending Northwest Division champion. Templeton will then finish the regular season with a home game Nov. 4 against Morro Bay looking to reclaim the “Clash of the Coast” rivalry trophy, before visiting Nipomo (2-4, 2-1) on Nov. 11.
“It’s just all about practice,” Berry said. “We have to keep that mental toughness going and have to keep preparing the same way we did for Santa Ynez. We just have to have a carryover.
“We all need to keep practicing at the same level to continue to build off of it.”