Julian Lopez rushed for a game-high 148 yards in Central Catholic's 43-22 win over Monterey Trail (Elk Grove) in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento. (Samantha Schmidt/Front Row Preps)

Central Catholic scores 30 unanswered second-half points to run away from MT

Ron Agostini
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SACRAMENTO – What Central Catholic did in the second half Saturday night was as subtle as a punch in the face and as lethal as a volcano.

The Raiders ran the ball straight, and with relentless power, at the Monterey Trail Mustangs. And the Mustangs had no answer.

The result was Central Catholic history, a definitive 43-22 victory to claim a section-record 20th section title. When you blitz your opponent 30-0 the final two quarters – after trailing 22-13 --and hold that team to only three first downs after the break, you win.

And the Raiders (12-1) won. Big.

“We just played harder in the second half,” Raiders coach Roger Canepa summarized.  “That was as good a half as we’ve played.”

And here were the spoils of victory:

  • It was CC’s first title in Division II
  • It was its first blue banner since 2015
  • It might mean a home berth in what is expected to be a D-II AA Northern California Regional next week. The brackets will be announced today.

“Our strength of schedule is as good as anybody,” Canepa lobbied. “I can’t believe we wouldn’t have a home game.”

What they added without question was another glorious chapter in Central Catholic football lore. A bell-ringing, sign-carrying crowd of supporters at Hughes Stadium reached a crescendo during the second half, just like their team.

The Raiders (12-1), the top-seeded Valley Oak League champions, reverted to a gear after halftime that  Mountain Trail did not match.

Julian Lopez (148 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and Aiden Taylor (99 rushing yards, three TDs, two two-point conversions) took turns gashing the worn-down MT defenders. Central Catholic pounded for four straight post-halftime touchdowns, rendering moot a mistake-ridden first half.

The heart of the Raiders offensive line – sophomore center Ryan Trent, Anthony Jimenez, Jacob Edmond, Jericho Machado and Bryce Wilkinson – all but told Monterey Trail its intentions.  No matter.

Consider: Sophomore quarterback Tyler Paul Wentworth completed all but two of 15 passes for the game. But he tried only two during the second half (and completed both). The Raiders gladly opted to  Canepa’s default key – punishing straight-ahead offense.

“We made history,” said Machado, a two-way lineman and a four-year varsity standout. “We pounded the ball with Julian and Pony (Taylor) and a great line blocking up-front.”

Central Catholic made two major adjustments at halftime: 1. Go straight at Monterey Trail on offense, and 2. Switched Machado from outside to the middle of the defensive line, giving him more mobility to bottle up the MT attack. Monterey Trail gained only 69 yards in the second half.

Monterey Trail (8-6), Elk Grove’s seventh public high school, is still without a section title after its fifth attempt. Veteran coach T.J. Ewing, gracious in defeat, saluted both his team and Central Catholic’s raw strength.

“At the end of the day it was will,” Ewing said. “The kids knew it was coming. It’s hard when they’re forcing their will on you.”

Central Catholic marked the fourth consecutive power-oriented team faced by Monterey Trail, the No. 7 seed that eliminated defending champion Elk Grove last week. “We plum tuckered out,” Ewing said.

The Raiders took the lead to stay early in the fourth quarter when Lopez barreled to his left and coasted 21 yards to the end zone. Taylor tacked on the two-pointer for a 28-22 CC lead.

Three snaps later, Central Catholic defensive back Brooklyn Cheek – a sophomore and midseason call-up from the JV team – intercepted in front of the Raiders bench and stepped 24 yards to the MT 10. Taylor soon scored standing up from 4 yards out. By then, CC’s momentum was irreversible.

“We’re nothing without our linemen,” Taylor said. “I owe them something. They put in the work in the second half.”

The night didn’t begin that way. Monterey Trail said hello on the first play from scrimmage, an 80-yard touchdown sprint by Daelin Ellis. Later, after Central Catholic pulled even, Ellis again raced past the CC defense and was destined to add a 48-yard TD – until he inexplicably fumbled the ball away. Cheek recovered at the CC 2.

Monterey Trail soon took advantage of back-to-back turnovers to build a lead, though CC stayed close on a nifty Wentworth-to-Noah Croasdale 16-yard touchdown connection. Croasdale maneuvered through traffic the remaining two yards near the pylon.

What decided the title, however, was the Central Catholic ground game and its fierce undertow that eventually pulled down Monterey Trail. As milestones victories go, it was hard to miss.

Sophomore Brooklyn Cheek, a midseasons JV call-up, delivered a key second-half interception, which led to a TD, in Central Catholic's 43-22 win over Monterey Trail (Elk Grove) in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento. (Ron Agostini/Front Row Preps)

.Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Championship

Central Catholic 43, Monterey Trail 22

Monterey Trail        7-15-0-0 – 22

Central Catholic       7-6-7-23 – 43

FIrst Quarter

MT – Daelin Ellis 80 run (Abdul Nabizada kick)

CC – Julian Lopez 5 run (Anthony Wildenberg kick)

Second Quarter

MT – Frank Arcuri 7 run (Fatafehi Puloka pass from Ronnie Brutus)

CC – Nolan Croasdale 16 pass from Tyler Wentworth (pass failed)

MT – Ali Collier 3 run (Nabizada kick)

Third Quarter

CC – Aiden Taylor 7 run (Wildenberg kick)

Fourth Quarter

CC – Lopez 21 run (Taylor run)

CC – Taylor 4 run (Taylor run)

CC – Taylor 6 run (Wildenberg kick)

Records – Monterey Trail 8-6, Central Catholic 12-1