High School Sports

Stakes high as Paso Robles hosts Atascadero in rivalry football game

War Memorial Stadium should be rocking tonight in Paso Robles for a PAC 7 showdown between the host Bearcats and Atascadero with the league title on the line.

Every year, the two North County teams look forward to the rivalry game that marks the end of the regular season.

This year, the 7 p.m. contest has added significance because Paso Robles could grab a share of the league championship with a win.

The Bearcats, with a 4-1 league record, face a 5-0 Greyhounds squad for a chance to share the title and get a higher seeding for the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs.

“Honestly, it’s exciting,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke said. “It’s exciting for the kids and for the community. I’ve been getting a lot of emails and phone calls. There are high expectations but we have to stay grounded and play it like any other game.”

The Greyhounds will be shooting for an undefeated league record and momentum going into their postseason run — one they hope will take them further than last year’s surprise semifinal finish after squeaking into the playoffs by invite after finishing fifth in league.

“We’re truly a team trying to go 1-0 every week,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “On the outside, everybody else sees this as a huge game. We know it’s a great big, huge rivalry. But any game in the PAC 7 can go either way. This week, we’re just focusing on this one.”

Atascadero is coming off a 28-7 win over San Luis Obispo, but the sixth-place Tigers kept the score tied at 7 into the third quarter.

Running back Izaiah Cooks was the workhorse for the Greyhounds, rushing for 235 yards on 32 carries and scoring two touchdowns.

Throughout the season, the Greyhounds’ defense has been stingy, holding teams to 10 points or less in four of their five victories in league.

“We’ll have to limit their big plays and keep them from running the ball down our throats,” Cooper said.

Paso Robles mixed its passing attack with some pounding runs to keep Arroyo Grande off guard and the chains moving in a 20-10 win at home last week.

Receiver Bailey Gaither found a seam in double coverage to catch a 45-yard pass from Gunnar Griffin in a crucial second-half play.

Griffin’s 16-for-23 completion rate resulted in 164 yards passing, including a touchdown strike to Matthew Van Dyk.

That complemented the runs of Nathanial Harris, who gained 51 yards, and Jimmy Pacheco’s 30 yards rushing.

In a night practice Wednesday, Schimke said his team worked on cleaning up the game plan and tackling fundamentals.

“We look forward to it,” Schimke said.