As Alex Cecchi stood at midfield after Friday night’s semifinal playoff loss to Thousand Oaks, all he had left to give was tears. Devastated after a comeback attempt that came up just 10 yards short, Cecchi continued to wear his helmet on long after he was tackled on the final play of Arroyo Grande’s 40-35 loss to Thousand Oaks in his final high school football game.
“We just play to the end, plain and simple,” Cecchi said. “And that’s what we did. Unfortunately they came out on top. It happens; that’s football.”
Thousand Oaks coach Mike Leibin didn’t remember Cecchi’s name, but he remembered his play.
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“That running back, he’s a pretty special little guy,” Leibin said.
Standing at 5-foot-8, Cecchi was a giant on a pair of plays in the fourth quarter.
After a 13-yard touchdown run by Thousand Oaks running back Perry Martin III made it 40-21 with 8:23 left in the game, it looked like Thousand Oaks could cruise to the win. But Cecchi and the rest of the Eagles pumped the brakes.
Cecchi took a option-read handoff from quarterback Sawyer May 29 yards for his 19th touchdown of the season to inch Arroyo Grande closer, 40-28, with 6:34 left. On the very next possession, Cecchi recovered a fumbled forced by Benny Willkomm.
A touchdown on the ensuing drive shrank the Thousand Oaks lead to 40-35. Arroyo Grande forced a turnover on downs and had a shot at the win with two seconds left after Sawyer May converted a pair of fourth down passes (a 25-yarder to Bradley Mickey and a 5-yarder to Cecchi), but it wasn’t meant to be. Arroyo Grande ended the season with an 11-2 record.
“The way we played tonight and the way the season went, it is definitely a blessing to play with these guys,” Cecchi, a senior, said. “I don’t think this loss tonight displays how truly good we are and how good we were throughout the season.”
Thousand Oaks shocked the Eagles as they jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half. Arroyo Grande’s only score before halftime came when Cecchi leaped over a Lancers defender on a 7-yard touchdown run.
But the early deficit and the play of Thousand Oaks quarterback Max Gilliam, a Cal commit, proved too much.
“Their offense is very high-powered and their game plan was very well executed.” Cecchi said. “It was a little bit better than ours.”
“It looked bad there,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “They were doing all sorts of things there in the first half and we came out in the second half and did a lot of what we need to do to win, we just came up a play or two short.”
Cecchi finished the game with 124 yards rushing, his second highest total on the season, and had four tackles and a pass defended at his cornerback position. He also had a huge hit on Thousand Oaks receiver Max Stockstad to force the only Thousand Oaks punt of the night on the first drive of the game.
The play of Cecchi alone was not enough to give the Eagles a shot at the end after trailing by 21, and both Cecchi and Goossen are the first to say so.
“I’m not too sure we have had a team with more heart than this team exhibited,” Goossen said. “When you look at big D-I players, we certainly don’t have those, but we have D-I hearts.”
“It’s a privilege to have coached these guys, and I know everybody on the staff feels the same way.”