Football practice Wednesday was loose at Paso Robles High. Players and coaches applauded in unison after a successful run play and exchanged air high-fives at the end of offensive drills.
The vibe was by design.
Paso Robles head coach Rich Schimke says he has been trying to keep practice more relaxed leading into Friday night’s rivalry game against Atascadero “because there is enough hype from the community and from their friends.”
“When we put a lot of stock in something, this team has a tendency to get a little tight,” Schimke said.
Paso Robles sure looked tight against Arroyo Grande. The Bearcats failed to score a point against the Eagles three weeks ago, but the team followed up the loss with blowout wins over San Luis Obispo and Righetti.
“Our practices are more upbeat, more physical,” said senior quarterback Justin Davis. “Everybody is getting after each other, in a good way.”
This week, Paso Robles is looking to shed the nerves and make it three wins in a row in the regular season finale at Flamson Middle School on Friday night, a game that Schimke expects to draw 5,000 spectators.
Senior linebacker Matt Keller has been looking forward to the game against Atascadero since before the season started.
“I have buddies that I went to middle school, elementary school with that are playing for Atascadero, so it’s always fun to play those guys,” Keller said. “It’s just a fun rivalry.”
One of those buddies is Atascadero running back Marc Martin, the PAC 5’s leading touchdown scorer. Martin played football at Paso Robles during his freshman year before transferring 11 miles south.
“I know Marc and he’s a force to be dealt with and he’s having a great season,” Schimke said.
Martin has gained 972 yards on the season and is averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He has also found the end zone 13 times.
“We just got to make tackles,” Keller said of stopping Martin. “He’s a big boy, so we have to gang tackle him and we got to get people on his legs and people from above, from everywhere.”
Atascadero running back R.J. Reusche, who is ranked 10th in the Southern Section Northern Division in rushing yards, was not present at the game against Arroyo Grande due to a “team issue” and is a gametime decision against Paso Robles.
But the Paso Robles defense still has plenty to deal with in the form of Martin. In fact, the only running back having a better season in the PAC 5 is his counterpart Friday night, Paso Robles running back Christian Erickson.
Erickson, who did not practice Wednesday as a precaution, according to Schimke, leads the 26-team Southern Section Northern Division in rushing with 1,327 yards. Erickson’s 168 yards per game average puts him in the Top-20 in CIF Southern Section of running backs who have played at least eight games. The 6-foot, 220-pound junior has rushed for over 100 yards in each game that he has played this season, and rushed for 340 yards on 40 carries in a loss to St. Joseph in the fourth game.
“(Erickson) will be ready to answer the bell on Friday,” Schimke said.
Davis, who hurt his non-throwing shoulder in the Arroyo Grande loss, said he is feeling “100 percent” and wants to finish off the season with a win against Atascadero, something he has never experienced.
“A win would be amazing,” Davis said. “Us seniors haven’t beat A-town, so it would be great to get a ‘W’ for our team. We need a ‘W’ and that’s what we want.”
Last season, Paso Robles season ended with a 28-18 loss to Atascadero, a loss that Schimke said helped the Bearcats during its run to a CIF Southern Section Northern Division title.
“The loss challenged out manhood a little bit. It was a good reality check,” Schimke said.
Regardless of the result Friday night, both teams should find a spot in the 16-team CIF playoff bracket again this season. Heading into the game, Atascadero is ranked No. 7 and Paso Robles sits at No. 10, according to MaxPreps.com.
With a healthy and relaxed team that has won five of its past seven games, Schimke is confident the relaxed week of practice will benefit his team when the lights fill the packed stands at Flamson.
“Let’s play,” Schimke said. “We expect to win every time we step on to the field, no matter who it is.”
Past five meetings
- 2014: Atascadero 28, Paso Robles 18
- 2013: Atascadero 22, Paso Robles 21 (2OT)
- 2012: Paso Robles 16, Atascadero 14
- 2011: Paso Robles 28, Atascadero 19
- 2010: Paso Robles 34, Atascadero 7