Coming off of a double-overtime 22-21 win over Paso Robles last week for the PAC 7 championship, Atascadero High is riding high into the first round of the football playoffs tonight.
The Greyhounds are one of three county PAC 7 teams, along with Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande, kicking off their CIF-Southern Section Northern League postseason tonight at 7.
The Greyhounds (8-2, 6-0) will host Saugus, the fourth-place team from the Foothill League that figures to be more formidable than its 5-5 overall and 2-3 league records because of the competition it faces.
In the Foothill League, Saugus plays against Valencia, the 39th-best team in the state, and Hart, the 44th ranked team in California, according to maxpreps.com.
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“They’re probably the best at-large team in the division,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “They’ll be a strong opponent.”
Cooper expects Saugus to run a spreadoption offense and balance its running and passing attack well.
But Atascadero has a balanced offense of its own. Last week, a surprise star for the Greyhounds was junior fullback Nick Ducasse, who ran for a 45-yard touchdown and caught the game-winning two-point conversion pass from quarterback Robbie Berwick after catching a 25-yard touchdown throw in the second overtime.
Ducasse replaced junior fullback Ethan Hicks, who was out with a knee injury.
“At this point in the season, to win it’s going to take some guys who are backups to step up and fill roles,” Cooper said. “Nick has done well.”
While Atascadero tries to fend off Saugus, Paso Robles will be looking for an upset at home against Hart (8-2, 3-2) of Newhall.
Hart’s 6-foot-2 junior quarterback, Brady White, has passed for more than 3,400 yards this season and 28 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
The pocket passer has attracted recruiting interest from colleges including UCLA, Oregon, Florida and Stanford.
“They have an explosive passing game,” Paso Robles coach Rich Schimke said. “… This is a team that was undefeated until about two weeks ago. They were top 20 in the state and dropped to 44 after losing to Valencia and Canyon in their last two games.”
Paso Robles, the secondplace finisher in the PAC 7, will try to rebound from its heartbreaker against Atascadero.
Receiver Bailey Gaither caught a 47-yard pass from Gunnar Griffin with 43 seconds left in the game to set up the game-tying two-point conversion run by Nathanial Harris and force overtime.
Griffin passed for 138 yards and 120 of them were to Gaither.
“What you saw last week is a team that plays 48 minutes plus of football,” Schimke said. “They don’t quit. They don’t give up.”
Arroyo Grande will hit the road to face Quartz Hill near Lancaster on what figures to be a chilly night where temperatures could drop to the 40s.
The Eagles (7-3, 4-2) finished third in the PAC 7, routing San Luis Obispo 56-14 last week.
Arroyo Grande feels like it was a few breaks and opportunities away from a better finish in league, losing to Atascadero 14-10 with the ball in the red zone in the final moments, and then Paso Robles 20-10 in a hard-fought Bearcats’ win.
“Sometimes breaks go your way,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “We’re a play or two away from a better record. We’ve been able to get better over the weeks and we’ve been able to grow.”
Senior quarterback Mikey Gutierrez will have a full year under his belt as a starter after being thrust into last year’s first round playoff loss to Hart when starter Matt Willkomm went down in the last regular season contest against San Luis Obispo.
Gutierrez has passed for 1,217 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions this season.
“We’re playing well, and I know we’ll compete well,” Gutierrez said. “This is the senior year for guys like Grant Alton, Tyler Auerbach and Michael Jordano (and Gutierrez). We’re going to leave with no regrets.”