As Arroyo Grande prepares to begin the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs, coach Tom Goossen won’t be showing game tape of last year’s 28-21 loss in the semifinals to Paso Robles. He won’t be giving an inspirational speech to push his 9-1 team before it hosts Royal on Friday night.
Consistency in game preparation is a staple of Arroyo Grande, because it has to be.
“If you start making a big deal about a game, that’s when mistakes and things start creeping in to games,” Goossen said. “If we just focus on the game at-hand, generally all that stuff gets pushed aside.”
So far it’s working.
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Every week, during Wednesday practice, Goossen meets with junior quarterback Sawyer May. The two sit inside the coach’s office, known as “The Bungalow”, and review the 2-minute drill from that day’s practice.
“We watch situational stuff, so if I make a mistake on a third-and-5, I go somewhere because we needed five yards,” May said after practice on Thursday. “In case we get into late game situations and I need to make a decision, say we need a first down or something like that.”
Outside of a game-sealing drive against Lompoc to open the season, Arroyo Grande has been in control at the end of each of its nine wins. But as the playoff pressure mounts and margin for error shrinks, it’s consistent coaching like the Wednesday one-on-one that could help May and the rest of Arroyo Grande feel more comfortable late in close games on the biggest stage.
May’s last experience on the playoff stage wasn’t his best. May threw two interceptions in the loss to Paso Robles, one of which was returned for a touchdown. But it was May’s experience in Arroyo Grande’s 7-0 win over Nordhoff in his first playoff game as a sophomore that he will draw from this Friday.
“That was probably one of the toughest games to control our composure that I’ve gone through,” May said. “I learned about just controlling my composure and controlling my emotions on every single play.”
Heading into Friday’s game, May has thrown just one interception in 154 attempts.
Along with guarding against turnovers, Arroyo Grande needs to protect itself from relaxing. Royal has not won a league game, but the Eagles aren’t putting much stock in the Highlander’s 4-6 record.
“I think they are a really good team,” May said. “Their record wouldn’t suggest so, but they are in a really good league so there is no reason to underestimate them.”
Royal is in the Camino League, the same league as three other playoff teams, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park and Camarillo, the only team to hand Arroyo Grande a loss this season.
In the final game of the regular season, Royal was within striking distance of Camarillo in the third quarter before the Scorpions turned it on and scored 21 in the fourth to win 49-21.
“Like almost every team in the Camino League, Royal has an ability to move the ball,” Goossen said of the Royals offense that has averaged over 250 passing yards and 113 rush yards per game. “They have a very talented quarterback and a good corps or receivers.”
In last week’s game against Camarillo, Royal dual-threat quarterback Matt Sciumbato passed for 261 yards and ran for another 80. Sciumbato has thrown for more than 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season.
“Royal will bring a lot of similar traits that Camarillo brought and we know it will be one of those struggles for us to maintain with that athleticism,” Goossen said.
Despite gaudy numbers, Sciumbato has his moments of weakness, throwing nine interceptions in 10 games. Waiting in the wings to up that number is the best secondary in the PAC 5. The Eagles have 17 interceptions, with defensive backs Alex Cecchi, Benny Willkomm and Bradley Mickey combining for 14 of them. They are a part of a defense that has surrendered an average of less than 5 points in its past five games.
The coaches at Arroyo Grande have done their best to keep the offense and defense clicking along with keeping consistency, but the players can feel the excitement.
“We are just looking at it as another week but it definitely gives you an extra boost knowing it’s playoffs,” said Mickey who has returned three of his five interceptions for touchdowns.
“This is really what we have been looking forward to,” May said. “All the other games mean something but now it starts to mean a lot more.”