The differential in each of the three PAC 7 league football games last week was less than a touchdown.
That goes to show that the league title is any team’s to seize, according to local coaches who spoke about to night’s showdowns between four possible contenders for the championship this year.
San Luis Obispo (2-3, 0-1 Pac 7) heads over the Cuesta Grade to Paso Robles (3-1, 1-0) to take on the Bearcats.
Atascadero (3-2, 1-0 Pac 7) will face off against Arroyo Grande (3-1, 0-0) at the Eagles’ stadium.
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Both games are at 7 p.m. and will help decide who takes a sliver of an edge in the race for the top spot in league.
“There are no cupcake games in our league this year,” Paso Robles coach Rick Schimke said. “Every week is going to be like a playoff game.”
San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley, whose team lost 35-30 to St. Joseph last week, echoed Schimke’s sentiments.
“On any Friday night, any team in this league can win,” he said. “You have to bring your A-game because a B-game won’t cut it. You have to bring your best game every night.”
Perhaps more than any of the four county teams facing off this week, the Tigers could use a victory to regain their mojo.
San Luis Obispo has lost three games this season by a total of seven points combined, including two one-point defeats in nonleague play.
Last week’s game against St. Joseph was punctuated by costly gaffes on big plays, such as a 97-yard kickoff return by St. Joseph for a touchdown and a 58-yard score after a catch by tight end Ryan Mediano on a busted coverage play.
“We look to get better every day,” Kelley said. “We just need to take care of the little things and stop making silly mistakes.”
Despite a start that has seen heartbreak and rough patches, Schimke is not underestimating a San Luis Obispo team he predicted would finish high in the league standings before the season started.
“They’re going to be hungry,” Schimke said. “They run their triple option well. Their quarterback Garrett Giovannelli is a great kid and a great athlete. They have a lot of good players in defensive positions.”
Schimke said that even though his team held on in a tight contest at home 27-21 last week against Righetti, the Bearcats had an offensive let-up in the second half.
After gaining a 27-7 lead at 5:38 in the third quarter on an 18-yard touchdown catch by Bailey Gaither, the Paso Robles offense noticeably stalled in its attempts to gain first downs on run-heavy sets thereafter.
“We need to maintain our consistency,” Schimke said. “We had a lull in the second half.”
Both quarterbacks played well in their last games. Giovannelli ran for 60 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns and threw for 143 yards on 6-for-13 passing, while Garrett Nelson logged 69 yards on 12 carries and two touchdown runs and 176 yards passing for Paso Robles.
As the battle in the North County brews, Arroyo Grande will begin its journey to repeat after an undefeated PAC 7 campaign last year. The Eagles had a bye last week.
Even though they’ve lost several key players from last year’s team, Atascadero Coach Vic Cooper still regards Arroyo Grande as the team to knock off.
“If you want a league championship, you have to go through them,” Cooper said. “They’re the defending league champs.”
Cooper said that his team has made strides in particular on the offensive and defensive lines.
Last week, the Greyhounds beat Pioneer Valley 22-16 behind the strong running of Jonathan Torres, who tallied 158 yards.
Torres has been a workhouse for the team, racking up 521 yards on the ground already this season, including an 84-yard dash last week. The Greyhounds will be tasked with trying to stop a strong rushing charge from Arroyo Grande that has been helped by improved work on the line as well, according to Eagles coach Tom Goossen.
“We’ve definitely gotten better blocking at the point of attack,” Goossen said. “Coach Scott Shepard who has been with us since 1986 does a great job with those kids.”
Shepard’s work with the line has helped open up holes for quarterback Matt Willkomm, who has run for 425 yards on the season. Elijah Holt ran for 126 yards and a long of 80 in the Eagles’ last game, a 35-7 win against Cabrillo on Sept. 14.
Goossen said a tradition of hard-fought games against Atascadero goes back years.
“They’ve won their share and we’ve won our share,” Goossen said. “They tend to be intense, hard-hitting games with a lot of discipline.”