Arroyo Grande High’s football team faced one of the better teams in the state from probably the toughest league in its CIF-Southern Section division and gave them a pretty good scare Friday.
The Eagles (8-4) led 14-7 after the first quarter and missed some opportunities to build on their lead and nearly pull of a major upset.
But Valencia, the champion of the Foothill League and the 39th-best team in the state according to MaxPreps.com, rallied to win 28-23 at Doug Hitchen Stadium in the second round of the Northern Division playoffs.
“They’re a very good team,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “They’re not ranked the way they are and they haven’t accomplished what they have by being pushovers. They have a lot of weapons.”
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Goossen credited the Eagles defense for playing “an outstanding game” and having four interceptions against Vikings quarterback Jake Wallace, who entered the contest with 2,811 yards passing, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions on the season.
Arroyo Grande also moved the ball on offense fairly well, particularly in the first half.
On their first drive, Eagles quarterback Mikey Gutierrez connected with 6-foot-4 sophomore receiver Joel Bishop for an 8-yard touchdown on a slant pattern on third-and-8.
Bishop proved to be a secret weapon for the Eagles when Gutierrez found him again for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 5:35 left in the first quarter to go up 14-7. Bishop fended off the safety and broke the tackle to will himself into the end zone.
Gutierrez finished with 136 yards passing on 13 of 23 attempts with three touchdowns and an interception that ended the game with about 30 seconds left and no timeouts for the Eagles. Arroyo Grande was embarking on an ambitious drive from its 20-yard line to try for the victory.
Arroyo Grande’s Grant Alton was a force to bring down in the first half, dragging Valencia defenders along with him on runs of 22 and 28 yards that displayed his sheer strength and determination. Alton finished with 64 yards rushing.
On defense, Alton acted as a wall at linebacker to keep Vikings’ running back Stone Jackson, from busting loose. Jackson finished with 108 rushing yards, and he often had gains of about 5 yards, but had no big plays or touchdowns.
“Grant has played outstanding ball all season,” Goossen said. “He had a remarkable senior year. He’s one of the best players on the Central Coast and without him we aren’t half the team we are.”
The Vikings found paydirt on a 74-yard touchdown pass from Wallace to Nick Jones in the first quarter. And they scored again on a Wallace to Jones connection with an 11-yard pass in the second quarter to tie the score at 14.
Arroyo Grande missed an opportunity in the second quarter on a botched snap that threw off the timing of a field-goal attempt by standout junior kicker Cole Ramey, who had three touchbacks in the game and did connect on a 31-yard field goal.
And a fumble also gave the ball back to the Vikings with Arroyo Grande moving into Valencia territory.
The Eagles also created some key turnovers in the game — including two interceptions by sophomore defensive back Bradley Mickey that helped keep Valencia out of the end zone.
Playing without standout defensive back Tyler Auerbach, who tore his ACL in the opening round win against Quartz Hill, the Eagles also got interceptions from Michael Jordano and Thomas Fuentez.
Jordano recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter as well to set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to Casey Muth to make it 28-23.
“We gave everything we had,” Jordano said. “We had good intensity. We just didn’t take advantage of some opportunities.”
In the second half, Valencia went to a run game and was effective in moving the chains. They also converted on a fourth down reverse to Jones at the Arroyo Grande 2-yard line for a touchdown to take a 21-17 lead.
“I’ve never had a loss that doesn’t sting and this one will, too,” Goossen said. “But I know how hard the kids fought and how hard they played.”