A year ago, a big Garces comeback at San Luis Obispo in the season opener spurred the Rams to a section-championship run; this year, the Rams wilted at home in the same matchup, losing a 34-21 decision Saturday night at Sam Tobias Field.
With half a dozen Garces players unavailable or limited because of cramps, SLO out-scored the Rams 27-7 after halftime, using a Jonathan Edwards touchdown run to go ahead in the third quarter and a Vanley Bernard 20-yard jaunt to put the finishing touches on victory.
"We had five or six guys cramp up, and as thin as we are anyway, to lose that many really hurts us," Garces coach Jim Maples said. "We talked about it, from 48 hours out, pounding water and trying to avoid that. It's surprising to me. I'll have to look into why that happened."
One of the key losses, Maples said, was center Cameron Guirguis. Without him, the Rams' running game wasn't nearly as effective. Junior Sheldon Croney had run for 93 yards in the first half, but he carried just six times for 26 yards after halftime, the final carry coming on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"That really affected our running game," Maples said. "So we tried to get the ball out in space, but we didn't have as much success as we wanted."
In fact, after starting 8-of-11, Garces quarterback Jake Pavletich misfired on 12 of his final 13 passes, with two interceptions included. He finished 9-of-24 for 136 yards and a touchdown. Croney had 119 rushing yards and a score, and he added four catches for 91 yards and another touchdown.
"We know we're extremely young," Maples said. "We just told the guys to keep their heads up. It's a young season, we showed some flashes, but we're not where we want to be yet."
While Garces (0-1) was sputtering in the second half, SLO was punishing the Rams with its running game. Four runs moved the Tigers to the Garces 12 on their opening drive of the second half, and quarterback Thomas Orradre hit 6-foot-5 receiver Dillon Walter for a game-tying touchdown from there.
Edwards scored on a reverse to cap San Luis Obispo's next drive, and Nate Greenelsh went 62 yards on the first play of the Tigers' third drive of the half.
"We run the ball," SLO coach David Kelley said. "We train hard. We come out and play hard. I think we prepared and we conditioned better than they did."
Down 28-14 after Greenelsh's run, Garces got a spark from Dominic Frasch. He took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards straight up the middle for a touchdown that cut the lead back to one score. Garces even got the ball back in SLO territory on a fumble, but Greenelsh intercepted Pavletich on the next play, and the Tigers secured victory with another long TD drive.
Greenelsh finished with 147 yards on eight carries, and Orradre had 111 yards rushing and 129 passing.
Things get no easier for Garces, which travels to Golden Valley next week and then has Bakersfield come to Sam Tobias Field on Sept. 13. The Rams also have non-league games with Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial, which beat Centennial this week, and Stockdale.
"There is no rest," Maples said. "With our early schedule, it's going to going to be a tough early season. But we're looking down the road with this group."
San Luis Obispo 34, Garces 21
G -- Croney 55 pass from Pavletich (kick failed)
SLO -- Orradre 17 run (44 kick)
G -- Croney 3 run (Croney run)
SLO -- Walter 12 pass from Orradre (44 kick)
SLO -- Edwards 15 run (44 kick)
SLO -- Greenelsh 62 run (44 kick)
G -- Frasch 95 kickoff return (Vasquez kick)
SLO -- Bernard 20 run (kick blocked)
SLO: Greenelsh 8-147, Orradre 16-111, Bernard 6-62, Scott 11-28, Bradley 4-26, TEAM 3-(-17). G: Croney 18-119, McCurn 2-7, Frasch 2-2, Pavletich 2-(-10), TEAM 2-(-10).
SLO: Orradre 7-13-1-129. G: Pavletich 9-24-2-131.
SLO: Wilson 3-66, Bernard 1-26, Bradley 1-13, Walter 1-12, Greenelsh 1-12. G: Croney 4-91, N. Borba 1-19, Lundy 1-15, Stuart 1-5, Frasch 1-1.
JV: GMHS 19, SLO 14
FS: GMHS 47, SLO 0