Like the animals on Noah’s Ark, the Atascadero High football team’s talent comes in pairs.
At quarterback, at running back and in the secondary. All three pairs of skill players were on full display in the Greyhounds 31-14 win over Paso Robles on Friday night.
At quarterback, Carson Rinkenberger started the game, but backup Elijah Cooks got plenty playing time as well, and not just as a pass thrower. Rinkenberger’s main job on Friday night was to hand the ball off to running backs R.J. Reusche and Marc Martin. And when the Greyhounds weren’t running the ball through the teeth of the Paso Robles defense, Zach Quigley and Lucas Sprouse were making game-changing plays from the secondary.
On Friday night at Flamson Middle School, it began with Atascadero’s defense.
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“They stepped up big time,” Atascadero quarterback Elijah Cooks said. “Stopping Christian Erickson that’s a big guy, he’s a great back and they just played great tonight.”
Erickson was held to just 78 yards running, the first time he has been held under 100 yards all season, by a determined front-seven. One rushing play not involving Erickson turned the game in favor of Atascadero. On a fourth-and-3 from Atascadero’s 25-yard line and down 10-0, Paso Robles quarterback Justin Davis handed the ball to wideout Steven Schouten on a sweep play. As Schouten crashed the line of scrimmage, the ball was stripped and fell right into the lap of Quigley, who scooped it up and took it 75 yards for the score.
“I heard the roar of the crowd and turned around and saw the tail end of it, but Zack has been making huge plays for us all year and tonight was no exception,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said of Quigley, the team’s leading tackler heading into the game.
“That was a momentum-changing play,” Sprouse said.
In the first quarter, Quigley also intercepted Davis on a crucial third down on the Bearcats second drive of the game.
Then it was his teammate in the secondary to get a crack.
As the offense crept into Atascadero territory, Davis took a shot at the endzone, but Sprouse stepped in front of Paso Robles receiver Steven Schouten and got his fourth interception of the season.
“We were just reading routes and being where we were supposed to be at the right time,” Sprouse said.
For Cooks, you never know where he might be. He could be behind center taking snaps as quarterback, he could be lined up as a tight end or he could be split out wide like he was on Atascadero’s final play of the first half.
With eight seconds left in the second quarter, Cooks jab-stepped inside, then broke to the corner of the endzone where he was met by a floating pass from Rinkenberger. The 6-foot-3 Cooks elevated for the catch and stamped both feet in-bounds to give Atascadero a 24-0 halftime lead.
“Having Elijah play quarterback and receiver and do all these amazing things on the football field definitely benefits us,” Martin said. “And having Carson throw dimes, that’s also a big help.”
Cooks finished the night with 30 yards passing, 17 yards receiving and 18 yards rushing and helped block for the running game. Rinkenberger was 5 for 5 passing for 63 yards.
“They just want me to do a lot and I love it,” said Cooks, who sat out last week’s game against Arroyo Grande for an undisclosed reason. “I love to contribute to this team. I love this opportunity.”
“He’s a great athlete and his versatility makes us a better offense,” Cooper said.
But the running game of Martin and Reusche is how the Greyhounds make their money. Reusche, who also missed the game against Arroyo Grande due to an off the field issue, returned to action against Paso Robles. That meant Martin didn’t have to carry the load himself.
The two backs combined for 178 yards rushing with Martin adding another 40 yards on two catches.
“I just worked hard in practice all week and the offensive line did a stellar job,” said Martin, who finished the game with 21 carries for 116 yards and two touchdowns, pushing his PAC 5 leading total for the season to 15.
Flooded with talent, the skill position pairs should help Atascadero get a high seed in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoff bracket after finishing the regular season 8-2 overall and 3-1 in the PAC 5. Last season in the playoffs, Atascadero beat Thousand Oaks and Bishop Diego before falling to Newbury Park 49-48 in the semifinals.
“Now that we are heading into CIF,” Cooks said, “we just have to step up our game and show CIF what’s up.”