Last season, the Arroyo Grande High football team stormed through the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs and won the title in flying colors.
After graduating a stellar class of seniors, the Eagles (8-3, 5-1 PAC 7) surprised many by grabbing a share of the league title with St. Joseph this fall.
But hopes of more playoff heroics ended Friday with a first-round Northern Division blowout at home to a formidable Hart team.
Hart (8-3, 3-2 Foothill League) won 48-6 at Hitchen Stadium by dominating both sides of the ball.
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Hart, of Newhall, racked up 560 yards of total offense and the Indians’ defense stymied the Eagles, who were playing without injured starting quarterback Matt Willkomm.
“They did all the things they needed to do both offensively and defensively and controlled the ball,”
Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “We got beat by the better team tonight. But that being said, I’m awfully proud of our kids and how they played all year long. We have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Despite the lopsided loss, the Eagles came out firing and stayed within range after the first quarter.
Back-to-back sacks by Grant Alton and Ryan Teixeira on the Indians’ opening drive forced a punt.
But after getting the ball back, Hart struck first on a 76-yard screen pass from Brady White to Connor Wingenroth, who took the ball up the left sideline for a breakaway score.
The Eagles went primarily to a running game early but couldn’t get their offense in sync against a tough defensive front, converting only three first downs in the first half to Hart’s 18.
Mikey Gutierez, who’d thrown only one pass this season, filled in at quarterback for Willkomm, finishing 8 of 17 passing for 125 yards and no interceptions.
A bright spot for Arroyo Grande came on a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Elijah Holt with 3:39 left in the first quarter to make it 13-6.
Holt broke away about midfield and then outsprinted the last of the Indian defenders who fell behind Holt’s long strides. Holt previously had a 90-yard kickoff return this season against Atascadero.
But Hart’s sizable offensive line served as a brick wall against the Eagles’ defensive line for the rest of the night. Sophomore quarterback White used multiple receivers as target practice — finishing with 355 yards on 19 of 29 passing and throwing three touchdowns.
Wingenroth was a one-man wrecking crew against the Eagles, logging 92 yards rushing with a score on the ground. He also scored on a 65-yard punt return in the second half to go along with his 76-yard first half touchdown catch.
Hart had been ranked No. 1 in the division but the Indians suffered two losses to end its regular season to Valencia and Canyon, both playoff teams from the Foothill League.
Coming into the contest, the Eagles averaged 30 points per game on 330 yards of total offense — 151 passing and 179 on the ground. They finished with 201 total yards Friday.
During the regular season, Willkomm had played an instrumental role with 16 touchdown passes against two interceptions, completing 64 percent of his passes and logging 150 yards per game. He also averaged about 50 rushing yards per game.
Willkomm sustained a left ankle injury in the final game of the regular season against San Luis Obispo High and hadn’t practiced all week.
“Being the competitor that he is, he wanted to get in there as badly as he can, but prudence dictated otherwise,” Goossen said.
But Goossen emphasized that quarterbacking “wasn’t the issue” in the game as Hart dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“We’ll go back in and celebrate a great season and look forward to a good season next year,” Goossen said.