Meanwhile, down the road in Templeton, another “instant classic” was going on in the revamped Northern League.
After Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande had wrapped up their PAC 5 slugfest up north, the hometown Eagles needed Mission Prep sophomore quarterback Bryce Fledderman to overshoot open tight end Carson Brown in the end zone on fourth down in the final minute to hold on for a wild 41-34 victory against the Royals on Friday night.
“You could have flipped a coin,” Templeton coach Dan Loney said, remarking at how the game reminded him of his days as a multi-time Arena Bowl-winner with the San Jose SaberCats. “It could have gone either way tonight.”
Surviving a game that featured three tie scores in the second half, Templeton (6-1, 1-0 Northern League) laid an early claim for the title in the Northern League, which makes its return to the area for the first time since it gave way to the PAC 5 after the 2001 season.
Having been a CIF-Southern Section independent the past few years and a member of the Central Section before that, the Royals (3-4, 0-1 Northern League) are playing in a league with Central Coast teams for the first time and also made it clear they had no intention of backing down against schools with larger enrollment figures.
Loney said it was the first game of the season that featured a rivalry flavor. The intensity was evident in a few sideline skirmishes and late-hit penalties.
“We didn’t know Mission was going to come out like that,” Templeton senior quarterback Gunnar Griffin said. “I guess it’s the new league. We matched up to it.”
Templeton scored the first touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Jordan Bernal to Nate Avery midway through the first quarter.
Then Mission Prep got a 1-yard touchdown run by Zach Balentine to close the gap. Then it went on like that for the next nine scores.
All were touchdowns. Neither team was able to score back to back. The Eagles went up; the Royals came back and so forth.
“It is the most fun to play a game like that,” Avery said. “You’re always on your toes. There’s always things that are going to happen. You have to be able to adjust and see what’s going on.”
It looked as if Templeton had sewn up the game with 4:41 left in the fourth quarter and leading by what became the final margin.
On fourth-and-7 at the Mission Prep 42 and Fledderman rolling out looking for go-to target Patrick Miller, Avery stepped in front to tip the ball away from the Royals receiver at the last moment.
The Eagles took over on downs, but just moments later, Avery lost the ball running a sweep around the left edge, and the Royals recovered the fumble for one final chance.
Fledderman, who was 18-of-41 passing for 275 yards and three touchdowns, drove Mission Prep all the way to the Templeton 12- yard line.
His final pass to Brown, who had already cashed in three catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns, was too high for the 6-foot-3 senior to get a hand on.
Miller had game-highs with 14 catches for 163 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown catch that made it 27-27 with 1:52 left in the third quarter.
On the next play from scrimmage, however, Bernal scrambled away from pressure to connect with Avery Shannon deep down the middle of the field.
Shannon caught the ball around the 50 and ran all the way to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown catch.
The Royals tied it again with a 3-yard run by Balentine with 7:17 to go, but Griffin stepped in to engineer the winning drive, which was capped by a 52-yard run by senior Christian Hauser hardly a minute later.
“It turned into trying to play a chess match, Loney said, “to see where we could put guys and catch them off guard, and that’s what they did to us.”
Splitting time equally at quarterback, Bernal and Griffin combined to pass for 209 yards and three touchdowns. Playing the first and third quarters, Bernal was 4 of 10 for 105 yards, and Griffin was 3 of 10 for 104 yards and a 45-yard screen pass for a score to Bryson Messer that gave the Eagles a 20-13 halftime lead.
Messer also ran 11 times for 88 yards, and Avery rushed 10 times for a game-high 93 yards.
Templeton goes into a first-place showdown with rival Morro Bay next week, but Mission Prep also earned plenty of Northern League credibility.
“This was a big win,” Avery said. “This was probably the biggest win we’ve had so far.”