ATASCADERO — Aftering coming up short in their last 13 tries, the Atascadero Greyhounds varsity football team ended their losing streak that began in week eight of the 2017 season, continued through last year’s 0-10 and into week one of this year after losing to Sunnyside in the opener. It was Sam Bordan’s fourth quarter, fourth-down, interception with less than a minute left against Buena that sealed head football coach Vic Cooper’s 100th career win at Atascadero High School.
It was a crazy back and forth game from the first snap to the last snap on Friday, but after all the dirt settled the Hounds were on top 28-24. The game opened with a 39-yard scramble by Atascadero quarterback Westley Cooper, immediately followed by an 85-yard pick-six by Buena outside linebacker Zac Babcock.
The immediate rollercoaster of emotions ending in seven Bulldog points left those in attendance at Memorial Stadium a bit shocked, silent, and worrying that this one might get ugly. However, the Hounds responded on their next possession as Gabriel Sandoval capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown.
While the game was one of momentum swings, the Greyhound players remained calm. Like a boat in the eye of a hurricane, Atascadero refused to rise or fall with the tides of emotions and did not acknowledge the chaos that existed all around them. This was not by accident, however, this was by design.
“We talk consistently about playing with an even keel and not playing with the highs and lows,” coach Cooper said after the game. “Because the lows end up being real low when you do that. So, I think tonight, when things went right we didn’t get too high and when things went wrong we didn’t get too low.”
Tied at seven, Buena finally took the field for the first time in the game and promptly recorded their first big offensive play of the game as their tailback, Bruce Mathis, broke a couple of tackles before outrunning the Hounds defense for a 50-yard touchdown scamper, taking the lead back 14-7 to end the first quarter.
The second quarter is when this game started to get wild. Backed into their own territory, inside the 15-yard line, the Bulldogs were forced to punt and instead snapped it through their own goalpost for the rare Greyhound safety. Now only leading 14-9, Buena was forced to kick off from their own 20-yard line. Taylin Butterbaugh’s kick landed around midfield and wound up in the hands of Tyler Cronkright, who did the rest, pulling off one of the top highlight-reel runs Memorial Stadium has ever seen.
Cronkright found a crease of light to his left and shot through it, flying down the visitor's sidelines. The blocking on the return was tremendous as the senior only had to break one tackle, but he did so in a Heisman fashion. Once Cronkright hit the 40-yard line it was clear that the only thing standing between him and the endzone was the kicker. Some choose to cutback, some choose to shake and bake, but Cronkright elected to go with the bulldozer lowering his shoulder while administering a cross-body stiff arm. Once the final defender was no longer a threat the home stadium went bananas as he strolled into the endzone, putting the Greyhounds back on top 15-14, following a missed extra point.
Atascadero hoped to go into halftime up a point but Buena’s kicker got her revenge in the form of a 22-yard field goal as time expired in the half that gave the Bulldogs a 17-15 lead.
Buena opened the second half with the ball and with urgency. The Greyhound defense quickly held the Bulldogs to a three-and-out but Buena pulled out a fake punt on fourth, barely picking up the first down. The next play went for 30 yards and suddenly Buena was back in the red zone and punched it in a few plays later to take a 24-15 lead.
The Hounds struggled to find momentum in the second half until the Bulldogs gifted it to them via a one-yard punt that set Cooper and the offense up on the 30-yard line. In vintage Atascadero fashion, the Hounds came out not even thinking about a pass and pounded the ball all the way to the goal line where Cooper burrowed into the line for a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 10 minutes to go in the fourth.
Trailing by four points late in the fourth quarter, the Hounds offense got the ball back with one more chance to win and put together their best drive of the evening. Starting with six minutes to go and lots of grass in front of them, Atascadero began their march for victory. Cooper converted a crucial third-and-8 with his legs scrambling and the offensive line began to assert themselves.
Logan Knuckles, Garret Oliveira, Sam Bordan, Connor Morris, Jack Megason and tight end Seth Robasciotti began putting Bulldogs defenders on ice skates in the fourth quarter but saved their best play for last. After getting stuffed on third-and-short Atascadero faced a fourth-and-2 from the Buena 24-yard line. With the game on the line, AHS assistant coach Dan Loney dialed up a run to the left and tailback Jadon Smith popped through the line and sprinted into the endzone untouched for the score and the lead, 28-24.
Atascadero left enough time on the clock for the Bulldogs to try a couple of heaves but their fourth-down attempt was intercepted by Bordan and the celebration was on. With the band trumpeting in the background, the Hounds celebrated by pouring a jug of water on coach Cooper to celebrate his 100th career coaching victory and first since 2017.
“It feels awesome,” Robosciotti said following the game. “The night was fitting, coach’s 100th win and you know we lost coach Reynolds this offseason so we kind of made a little dedication to him and yeah, it was awesome.”
This Friday the Hounds will go for two straight victories, something they haven’t done since 2016, in Bakersfield as they take on Stockdale at 7:30 p.m.