PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles Bearcats opened their season at War Memorial Stadium on Friday night to take on the third-ranked team in Division 1 in the Bakersfield-Liberty Patriots and lost 24-0.
The game was originally scheduled to be played against the No. 2 team in Division 1, the Clovis-Buchanan Bears, but it was reported that ESPN wanted to televise the game and in the end, they decided to go with a more high-profile team for the national audience in Narbonne (No. 4 in California).
Regardless of if the Bearcats were playing the No. 2 or No. 3 team in Division 1, few people were expecting Paso Robles to win the game while some joked that it would be over at halftime, but this was not the case.
The new-look Tim Alvord defense was stout all night and made the Patriots offense look a bit like a Ferrari stuck the mud, unequipped for the task ahead and while the Bearcats put up a goose egg on the scoreboard in JR Reynolds’ maiden voyage the offense showed some good signs and was crucial in time of possession management.
When playing as a big underdog against a team with a potent offense, the strategy is always the same, win the time of possession battle and don’t give up any big plays, and that is what the Bearcats were able to do most of the night with just a few exceptions that really decided the game. One big play and far too many offensive penalties were what sealed the game for the Patriots because the Bearcat offense could not get out of their own way most of the night and it started with the first drive of the evening.
After showing only shotgun in their scrimmage against Nipomo last weekend the Bearcats came out in the I-formation against Liberty with the intent to pound to ball. After a series of downhill runs junior quarterback Braden Waterman pulled the ball out Gerald Norte’s belly and rolled out to his left and dumped it off to the fullback Jacob Lambeth who rumbled for 18 and out of bounds just short of the 50.
However, just three plays later the Bearcats would be punting out of their own endzone and the Patriots would take the field for their first possession at the Paso Robles 40-yard line. A holding penalty on first down moved the offense back almost 20-yards and an intentional grounding penalty that came when Waterman was flushed out of the pocket immediately on 3rd and a country mile put the ball inside the 5 on fourth down and led to a short field and easy first score for Liberty.
The Patriots made their short field even shorter when they opened the game offensively with a reverse to wide receiver Ramon Henderson that set them up in the red zone for a score four plays later and a 7-0 lead.
The Bearcats next offensive drive started with a first down coming on a 4th-down conversion but put behind the sticks following an offsides penalty which ultimately led to another punt.
The Paso Robles defense showed their grit in the next series when the game was feeling as if it were starting to tip the Patriots’ direction.
Liberty started the drive moving the ball well with a broken play quarterback run, a couple of quarterback powers and a jet sweep moving them down inside the Bearcats 30-yard line. The Patriots had three tries to get just two yards and could not do it, turning the ball over on downs back to Paso Robles.
The rest of the quarter was a slugfest between the thirties that appeared as if it would end with Waterman’s perfect coffin corner punt that put Liberty on their own 2-yard line with just over a minute left in the game.
Seemingly content to run the clock out and go to half time up only 7-0 the Patriots ran the ball conservatively but play was stopped when Bearcat junior linebacker and fullback Jacob Lambeth was slow to get up. The Bearcat medical team and local paramedics took their time and were careful with the young man and loaded him into an ambulance on a stretcher surrounded by teammates and Paso Robles High School administrators.
JR Reynolds, head coach of the Bearcats, has since told the Paso Robles Press that “he’ll be OK.” The injury lasted nearly 15 minutes and understandably left the crowd at War Memorial in a bit of a somber mood.
Once the field was cleared the Patriots resumed play and seemingly sensed the atmosphere and went for the jugular hitting on a 80-yard pass play up sideline. The Patriots scored a few plays later completing a 98-yard drive and taking a 14-0 score and all the momentum into halftime.
“It was a heck of a play call,” Reynolds said following the game. “In that situation I probably would have done the same thing in a long delay like that.”
The Patriots opened the second half with the ball and drove down the field and converted a 3-yard field goal making it a three-possession game. The game ended 24-0 but did not by any means look like a game between a top-three team in Division 1 and a mid-tier team in Division 2. The Bearcats showed they were a few plays and several mistakes from being in the game at the end.
“I think we played Bearcat football,” Reynolds said after the game. “I thought we played tough, I thought we played our butts off and you know that’s a damn good football team over there and I saw more positives than negatives, really. People said this thing was going to be over at halftime and this thing was 14-0.”
Reynolds did touch on the penalties but doubled down on the performance of his team continuing to say, “Offensively we have got to be a little better. We missed on some things, you know, one block away type of things but you know if we don’t have dumb penalties and losses on first down we are in that thing so I am proud, I am proud of our guys and it was a step in the right direction.”
Next week the Bearcats will be on the road for the first time this season and will face off with the Frontier Titans of Bakersfield. Both teams enter the game at 0-1 after losing to teams they weren’t expected to beat. The Titans and the Bearcats both play in Division 2 of the Central Section this year making this an important game, even in the early part of the season, in playoff seeding. Frontier and Paso Robles met in week two last season and played a close game that came down to the wire with the Bearcats pulling out the win 17-14.