The last time Morro Bay and Atascadero high schools played each other in football was 2003 when Atascadero squeaked out a 28-21 win.
Tonight, coaches are preparing for a game that could be just as competitive.
Morro Bay is coming off of a 42-7 pounding of Torres, a new school founded in 2010 in East Los Angeles. It was a welcome opener for the Pirates, who are hoping to rebound from a 1-9 season last year. Atascadero is hoping to bounce back from a 41-21 defeat to Clovis North.
Coaches gave varying theories for the long absence between games.
They had challenges with matching up their nonleague scheduling for games early in the season. And the level of competition may have played a role.
Morro Bay’s student population is about half the size of Atascadero’s. Atascadero has faced off against bigger schools in the Fresno area in nonleague play in recent years.
“We tried to schedule Morro in recent years, but I think our level of competition was a little bit higher as they went smaller,” said Atascadero coach Vic Cooper. “We’re happy for a local game.”
Morro Bay coach Jack Greer said that with increasing costs of transportation, local athletic directors are encouraging local nonleague matchups.
Regardless of the 9-year gap in the action, both teams are fired up.
“Growing up, I played against some of their guys in youth football,” said Jake Beavers, Morro Bay’s linebacker. “We expect them to be tough, but we’re excited to play a team that’s just over the hill.”
Beavers said shutting down Atascadero’s running game will be key as the defense hopes to force the Greyhounds to throw the ball more than usual.
The Pirates ground attack will feature Derek Viles, whose nickname is “Lightning,” for his quick running style compared with bruising backfield cohort Tristan Collins, called “Thunder” by teammates, who shares the handoffs. Greer refers to Collins and Viles as a “two-headed monster” at running back.
“We just have to trust in each other and know that everybody will do their job,” Viles said. “If the line does its job, the holes will be there for us.”
Greer said the Pirates have focused on technique and the mental aspect of the game, particularly after a “dismal season last year.”
“If they don’t believe they can win when they step on the field, then they’ve already lost,” Greer said. “Quite frankly, we may need some breaks against A-town. But hopefully, we can create those breaks.”
In preparation this week, Atascadero’s squad held practice in scorching, 105-degree weather Wednesday.
Teammates pushed each other during timing plays on pass routes and simulations of snaps in which the defensive line coach urged his players to keep their eyes on the football instead of listening to his voice during the snap count.
“Let’s do it right,” a Greyhound player shouted during a drill.
Cooper said that on offense, his team will need to protect quarterback Robbie Berwick better than last week and make sure players are in the right position.
“The (Pirates) destroyed Torres a week ago and their coach has the program going in the right direction,” Cooper said.
“They’ve already matched their win total from last year. There’s not a kid on our team looking past this game.”
Greyhound Hunter Stemper will see action on both sides of the ball as a linebacker and fullback.
Drenched in sweat during a brief interview in pads on the sizzling North County afternoon, Stemper said that conditioning is essential in playing both sides of the ball. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior said he’ll be ready to play every down tonight.
“There has been no messing around in practice this week,” Stemper said.
“If we work hard, we have a good chance to be a great team. We’ll put it all out there and that will make all the hard work worth it."