High School Sports

Atascadero has gone from fifth place to final four

Who would have thought that after the PAC 7 had five teams make the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs that fifth-place Atascadero High, a team that made the postseason with an at-large bid despite a losing record at 4-6, would be the last school remaining from the league?

Such is the case for the surprising Greyhounds (6-6), who, after upsetting No. 1-seeded Palmdale 26-7 in the opening round and beating visiting Canyon 30-14 in the quarterfinals, will play host to West Torrance tonight in the Northern Division semifinals tonight at 7:30 with a trip to the section title game on the line.

“I think the at-large bid probably excited us a little bit,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “Obviously the win against Palmdale started to make the kids believe. To beat that team gives you a little bit of confidence to come back and win at home.”

The Greyhounds will need all the confidence they can get when they face an upstart Warriors squad that has made the most of its own at-large berth.

West Torrance (9-3) defeated Bay League-rival Mira Costa in a 49-42 shootout last week, avenging a 62-42 loss to the Mustangs in the league opener for both teams in October.

“I think we got some great confidence,” Cooper said. “We felt that we were a good football team that were losing some games that we shouldn’t have lost.”

Atascadero dropped back-to-back games to end the season, first a 31-14 loss at San Luis Obispo followed by a heartbreaking 16-14 loss against Paso Robles in which the Greyhounds missed a potential game-winning, 42-yard field goal as time expired.

After the game, Cooper and his team believed their season to be over, but the CIF-Southern Section thought otherwise. The rejuvenated Greyhounds haven’t looked back since.

“We haven’t made any personnel changes,” Cooper said. “We have the same kids out there and they’re buying into the changes and it’s starting to click. That’s been the biggest part.”

After struggling at the end of the regular season, Atascadero has outscored playoff opponents 56-21 behind an emerging running game, inspired play from the Greyhounds defense and the steadily improving game of junior quarterback Robbie Berwick.

“That’s the big difference right now,” Cooper said. “I think the difference is that our defense is playing fantastically and that allows the offense more opportunities.”

Berwick has capitalized on the chances with efficient numbers, going 14 for 21 passing for 186 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions in the playoffs. He has added 36 yards rushing and a touchdown to a run-game that has scored seven touchdowns over the past two games.

“Robbie has become a student of the game,” Cooper said. “He is absolutely the leader of our offense right now. He has rededicated himself to the game of football.

“These last two weeks he has really, really turned into a leader. At least offensively he has been the guy that has been steering the ship for us.”