Atascadero hosts San Gabriel this Saturday at 6 p.m. after shutting out Colusa last week in 6-A semifinal
By Connor Allen
Special to Atascadero News
ATASCADERO — This Saturday at 6 p.m., the Atascadero Greyhounds will host San Gabriel High School in the 6-A State Championship game after defeating Colusa last Saturday 21-0 in a soggy, slobberknocker of a game.
Atascadero was able to grab an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a Trey Cooks touchdown run and that is all the defense would require as the Greyhounds posted their second shutout of this impressive four-game playoff run.
“It has really been a community effort,” Atascadero head coach Vic Cooper said of his defense. “The defense has been phenomenal; in four playoff games they have only given up 21 points, including two shutouts. They have really started to come together as a unit and it’s because it’s not star-driven, it’s definitely — Coach Derose actually talks about how all the piano keys have to be lined up, otherwise the harmony doesn’t come out of it. It has been a really great defensive effort the last month.”
While the defense might operate without typical “star power,” there are still players at each level of the defense who has played incredibly well during the playoff run, starting with senior defensive back Jarom Damery.
In the three games leading up to the win over Colusa in the Northern Regional, Damery had recorded 19 total tackles and had his fingerprints all over Atascadero’s win over Dos Palos in the CIF Central Section semifinal, recording two interceptions. Damery followed up that performance with two blocked field goals, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in the CIF Central Section championship game, a 27-13 victory over Pioneer Valley.
Joining Damery in the defensive secondary are two more ballhawks in Jack Hathaway, who leads the team in pass breakups, and Mason Degnan, who recorded a big interception in the CIF Central Section title game and is second on the team in tackles.
In the middle of the Greyhounds’ defense lurks the main signal caller and season’s leading tackler in senior linebacker Diego Real. While a bit undersized, Real wreaks havoc on opponent’s offenses with his nonstop motor and affinity for blasting opposing players just under their chin. Real also works as a change-of-pace running back for the Greyhounds and recorded 78 yards on only seven carries in the game against Colusa.
Greyhounds defensive coordinator Sam Derose talked about his defensive players fitting into their spots like keys in a piano and that is most apparent with the defensive line that is six deep and has neutralized every running game they have faced so far. Celtin Vert, Anthony Tejeda, Jaiden Ramirez, Jackson Cooper, Isaac Contreras, and Cole Loney have been essential and it is their versatility that gives offenses nightmares, according to DeRose.
The San Gabriel Matadors will present the toughest test this Greyhound team has faced in the playoffs so far, bringing with them an offense that has scored more than 500 points this season.
With a high-powered offense coming into Memorial Stadium on Saturday night, Atascadero will also need their running game firing on all cylinders to give their defense a rest when they can. The backfield brother combo of Trey and Kane Cooks ran through the Ocean League and has only become stronger as the season has progressed. While neither of the brothers came into the season expecting to end up in the state championship game, they both have their eyes set on making history.
“I have had many family members play at Atascadero High School, many of whom played together like me and my brother. All of my family were great athletes and hold many of the records at our school, but as far as I know, we are the first Cooks to win CIF. I think that this has shown me that I can go far like many of them did, and play at the next level,” Trey told the Atascadero News/Paso Robles Press. “ It is amazing to be the first team at our school to play in the state championship. Like I said before, many of my family members have written their names in the athletic history of our school, and if Kane and I can win we will be able to accomplish something none of them have before. I am very excited to have them come and see Kane and I play in the state championship.”
The biggest game in program history will start at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening and the team is expecting its community to show up for and bring the players the home-field advantage they deserve. Tickets must be purchased online and everyone is requested to show up wearing as much orange as physically possible.