With almost identical final scores, two of last season’s simultaneous PAC 7 high school football games couldn’t have been much more similar.
Almost a year ago today, Paso Robles won 14-10 at Arroyo Grande, thanks to a final-minute defensive stand inside the 10-yard line, while Atascadero won 13-10 at San Luis Obispo on the same night, successfully defending an end-zone pass late in the fourth quarter.
For the second year in a row, those four rivals will meet in the ninth week of the season. And once again, there will be plenty of CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoff implications pertaining to each game.
Arroyo Grande (7-1, 4-0) will be on the road at Paso Robles (2-4, 1-2) while Atascadero (5-2, 2-1) will host San Luis Obispo (5-2, 2-1). Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m. starts.
The first-place Eagles, who haven’t lost since a season-opening 38-28 loss to Lompoc and are ranked second in the division, can clinch at least a share of the PAC 7 title with a win. It’d be the program’s first league championship since 2004.
The Bearcats are looking to bounce back from a 25-23 loss at Pioneer Valley, in which they were unable to ovecome a 16-0 second-quarter hole, a deficit that included a Panthers fumble return for a score.
Paso Robles’ past three losses have come by a combined 12 points.
“They’ve been in every single game,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said, noting a 9-3 Oct. 6 loss at St. Francis, the division’s sixth-ranked team. “They’re a point or two away from winning all their games, much less one or two of them.
“It’s another PAC 7 game where anyone could win.”
That’s exactly what last year’s matchup was like leading up to a thrilling finish. In that one, Paso Robles’ Elias Stokes leapt over the goal line from 1 yard out with 4:15 remaining for the go-ahead score. The Eagles then drove the length of the field, moving inside the Bearcats’ 5-yard line, before turning the ball over on downs with less than a minute to play.
“It certainly ranks up there as one of the better games I’ve been in as a coach,” Goossen said. “That was certainly a tremendously hard-fought game between two teams not willing to give an edge.”
Stokes, now a senior, has caught 16 passes for 244 yards and three TDs over the past two weeks.
Last year’s game was also marked by a memorable performance by Arroyo Grande quarterback Brent VanderVeen, who ran for 67 yards on 14 second-half carries. Also now a senior, VanderVeen verbally committed to Oregon State this past offseason. He hasn’t disappointed in his follow-up, with four games in which he has passed for between 263 and 381 yards. He has thrown one interception since Sept. 9.
A week ago, Arroyo Grande got back-to-back fourth-down stops in the second half of a 28-7 win over Righetti, a game in which half of the Eagles’ points came with less than four minutes to play. Arroyo Grande’s 15 team interceptions, led by Matt Willkomm’s league-high five, are the most in the Western Division.
Having said all of that, it’d be hard to pick one of this week’s all-San Luis Obispo County games as an undercard.
The 2010 game between the Tigers and Greyhounds had just about as pulse-pounding of an ending as their counterparts saw.
Needing a field goal to tie it and facing a fourth-and-4 from the Greyhounds’ 15-yard line with 2:25 on the clock, the Tigers decided to go for the win, but a fade pass fell incomplete as receiver Mason Orradre and cornerback Troy Norris, both all-county first-team selections, jostled for the ball in midair.
Atascadero proceeded to run out the clock from there.
This time, the two teams will be looking to break a second-place tie in the standings, which would figure to be a big step toward eventually securing one of the PAC 7’s two guaranteed postseason spots (a third, at-large selection is also likely).
Last week, Atascadero, which is ranked 10th in the division, won what was perhaps the wildest game in the area all season, 48-43 at St. Joseph. The Greyhounds had a 28-point third quarter in the shootout.
Sophomore quarterback Robert Berwick went an efficient 6-of-8 passing, averaging 30 yards per completion, with two touchdowns, and also scrambled for 52 yards and two more TDs, including the game-winning 19-yard run, on seven carries.
Even so, “I don’t feel like we’ve reached our potential yet offensively,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “There are still some gains to be made, and we’re hoping to improve week-to-week so we can hopefully peak later in the season.”
St. Joseph’s pass-happy attack has given opponents trouble all year, but defensively, the Greyhounds are looking to recapture the type of performance they had three weeks ago in a 21-0 shutout of Righetti.
Meanwhile, San Luis Obispo, after getting out to its best six-game start in five years thanks to a 28-0 win over Pioneer Valley on Oct. 7, lost 19-12 at Righetti before having a bye last week.
Overall, the Tigers seem to have built on last year’s improvement, a steady progression under third-year head coach David Kelley.
They feature two of the league’s top five rushers in senior running back Jacob Flores (119.6 rushing yards per game, No. 1 in the PAC 7) and junior quarterback Garrett Giovannelli (188.9 total yards of offense per game, including 69.3 rushing).
The Tigers’ triple-option offense isn’t just unique to prepare for because of how seldom defenders face it, Cooper said, but also because it’s near-impossible to simulate its tempo and rhythm in practice.
“They’ve definitely improved,” Cooper said. “You can really see it up front. They’re not big and overpowering, but their guys really get off the ball.
“The guys on that team now, they get it. They’ve been through (the system) for four years (including freshman and JV levels), and they get what they’re trying to get out of that offense.”
In the lone noncounty PAC 7 game of the night, Pioneer Valley (4-3, 1-2) will visit St. Joseph (2-5, 0-4).