Dawaiian McNeely doesn’t believe Central Catholic’s odds of beating mighty De La Salle tonight are as long as some would have you believe.
At 2 o’clock, the Raiders (1-0) will board a bus to Concord, where the Front Row region’s No. 1-ranked team will face a program no one north of Fresno has beaten in more than 9,000 days.
To be precise, De La Salle (1-0) in unbeaten in 291 consecutive games against Northern California opponents, including last week’s 14-0 victory over Folsom, a reigning CIF State champion with 15 returning starters.
McNeely understands the perception, but he and his teammates choose not make it their reality. The Raiders fly into this game with momentum of their own after silencing Clovis West and highly-touted quarterback Dante Chachere, 21-0.
Kyle Jacklich scored two touchdowns, and Justin Traina and Nic Sani, members of the Raiders’ Sac-Joaquin Section title-winning basketball team, anchored the defense.
De La Salle will be a “whole other monster,” said McNeely, who had 145 yards on 22 carries in his first game as the featured back. “That’s going to be a good game. As a team, we feel our chances (of upsetting the Spartans) are very high. We just have to work hard and leave everything on the field. We’ll have to play hard-nosed football.”
The Spartans are built around a pair of national recruits: 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker Henry To’oto’o, who holds offers from Alabama, Oregon, USC, Tennessee and Washington; and tight end Isaiah Foskey, a 6-foot-5 tight end with 28 offers, including strong interest from Alabama and Clemson.
One area coach, speaking anonymously to the Front Row this week, believes the Spartans, ranked No. 3 in the latest Cal-Hi Sports state poll, are better at every position.
“They’re just another team,” McNeely said. “They put their pants on the same way we do. That’s the way I look at it.”
The Spartans aren’t overlooking the Raiders, a program developing in their mold under coach Roger Canepa, a fiery, four-fingered general. De La Salle and Central Catholic are the two most decorated programs in state history and the only programs to win four consecutive CIF State bowls.
De La Salle has won a record seven state bowls, appeared in all 12 bowl series since the CIF went to the north-versus-south format in 2006, and it has captured 26 consecutive North Coast Section titles.
Meanwhile, Central Catholic is tops in the Sac-Joaquin Section with 19 banners and competes at a Division II level despite its low enrollment.
“It’s kind of like watching us in a lot of ways. Double tight. They’re just running it, running it, running it. They’re physical,” De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh told The San Jose Mercury News. “They’ve got some good runners, one really good running in particular. They’re defense is physical. They play hard and tackle well. We’re going to get hit in the mouth, which I’m excited about.”
Some the loudest hits could come at the second level, where four-star To’oto’o and McNeely may meet often. Like To’oto’o, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound McNeely is a national recruit. The three-star prospect has offers from Arizona State, Oregon State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada and Tulane, according to 247Sports.
If the Raiders’ undersized offensive line can get good push against the Spartans, McNeely likes their chances against a defense being billed as the school’s best ever.
“De La Salle, they’re no push-over. We have to be 100 percent on every play, pure perfection and hit on all cylinders,” said McNeely, who can’t wait to measure his ability against To’oto’o’s.
“It’s going to be what it is. I won’t shy away from any challenge. He’s the same person as me. You can’t take anything from him. He’s good player, but I consider myself a good player, too.”