In Greek mythology, Cerberus is a giant three-headed dog who guards the gates of the underworld. Cerberus’ goal is to prevent the dead from leaving and heading back to the land of the living. The Arroyo Grande football team has its own version of such a beast, only its goal is a little different: to kill the playoff dreams of opponents.
Led by a strong offensive line, running backs Bradley Mickey, Alex Cecchi and Joey DeLaRosa have combined forces and shredded opposing defenses, gaining 255 yards per game this season and leading the Eagles to an 11-1 record.
Two games into the playoffs, Arroyo Grande has upped the ante. The Eagles’ run game gained 567 yards against Royal in a first-round win and 356 yards in a win last Friday over Antelope Valley in the second round. Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen gives a lot of the credit to the play of the offensive line.
“We are getting great movement and we have everybody blocked, which gives our running backs a chance to make a move and to get upfield,” Goossen said.
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Strong tackle Josh Day, weak tackle Josh Domako, center Sebastian Holtschulte, strong guard Danny Shiraishi and weak guard Isaiah White have been clearing the way for the three headed monster. The line, which is composed of all seniors except for junior Domako, is not the biggest line on the block. But their 265-pound average allows Goossen to run lots of pull and zone blocking plays to use the speed of Cecchi and the wide receivers on sweeps.
“Certainly, Josh Day has been a prime example of that (agility),” Goossen said. “Great feet, great eyes and great intellect, which allows him to do more than maybe most can.”
The line has also been able to remain healthy.
“Isaiah White was out for about three games early in the year, and we rotated a lot. But I would say that the last three or four weeks we have been fairly healthy, and obviously it has shown in our play,” Goossen said.
Day, a co-captain, credits the offensive line’s success to the coaching staff and a simple approach.
“I think this year we have really been driving off the ball and keeping our composure,” Day said. “We just take it to them and hit them hard. That’s what we strive for.”
Arroyo Grande also has the benefit of a unique offensive system and a diverse group of running backs.
“Bradley is sort of the patient one who sorts through the plays and then, when he finds an opening, he shoots through it. Alex is more of a mile a minute, feet are going, and his body is going as hard as he can move it. And then, of course, Joey is north and south. ‘One guy, 10 guys, this is the direction I’m going.’ ”
But it has been a little more difficult to figure out who will go where, Goossen said, thanks to a tweak in the fly offense employed by Arroyo Grande for the past 30 years. Instead of starting quarterback Sawyer May under center, Goossen moved May into the pistol formation, a version of the shotgun.
“I think people are having a little bit harder time finding the ball, which works to our benefit. We may not have to be as fast as if people just saw the ball and ran to it,” Goossen said.
“Throughout the year, I feel like we have progressed, as we always do,” Cecchi said. “I feel like the run game has gotten a lot better.”
The depth at running back has also allowed Cecchi and Mickey to play more defense, a huge benefit for Arroyo Grande. Mickey and Cecchi are tied for the team lead in interceptions, with six each.
“Running backs who have carried it 30 or 40 times a game, they start to wear down just a little bit,” Goossen said. “So I think we have had the benefit of keeping those kids fairly fresh, even though they play defense.”
But the biggest challenge Friday against Thousand Oaks won’t be generating offense, it will be stopping it.
Thousand Oaks possesses one of the most balanced offenses the Eagles have seen all season. The attack is led by Thousand Oaks’ own version of the triple threat: quarterback Max Gilliam, wideout/defensive back Kevin Howell (two Division I talents who have committed to play at Cal and Nevada, respectively, next season), and running back Perry Martin III. Thousand Oaks defeated Lompoc 34-31 last Friday in a thriller, and Martin had 266 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the win.
“Do I expect to stop them? Absolutely not,” Goossen said. “But if we slow them down and do our jobs on offense, we will have a better chance at being in the game near the end.”