STOCKTON – Tyler Paul Wentworth politely asked post-game well-wishers to be careful with the handshakes. His right hand was a little sore.
One of those who approached him after the game was St. Mary’s veteran coach Tony Franks, who spoke with the Central Catholic star for about five minutes.
“What a terrific player,” Franks praised later, “and a fine young man.”
Wentworth, the Raiders’ 6-foot-5 do-everything star, simply was the best player on the field: Two touchdown passes, 245 passing yards, 69 rushing yards, one rushing TD, a go-ahead 2-point conversion, and even a one-handed interception to set up another TD. Had he been asked to drive the bus, he probably would have done that, too.
And it wasn’t enough. St. Mary’s trailed briefly early in the fourth quarter but rallied for the final 15 points and a 42-33 victory Friday night in another memorable Holy Bowl.
"It could have gone either way,” said Wentworth, a senior who will bring his baseball talents next year to Clemson. “I loved playing the Rams. It's sad that this is the last time (we’ll play St. Mary’s). Hopefully, maybe, in the playoffs.”
A rematch would be hardpressed to equal the drama which played out at Sanguinetti Field. Last year’s 47-7 St. Mary’s romp was rendered far in the past, replaced by two Northern California elites who filled the night with enough thrust-and-parry to please the most active swordsman.
“Do games come any better than that?” Franks asked. “We had to scratch and claw for every inch of turf, and so did Central Catholic. It came down to one play.”
Central Catholic (1-1), trailing 34-33 midway in the fourth quarter, pieced together one of its specialties – a slow clock-eating drive – until it faced a fourth-and-five from the St. Mary’s 15 yard line. The Raiders have a good kicker in Xavier Diep, but CC coach Roger Canepa didn’t like his field-goal chances after two conversion kicks were blocked during the first half.
Central Catholic rushed to the line and Wentworth quick-pitched to Trace Hernandez, who was quickly smothered far short of the first down.
“The blocked kicks were in my head,” Canepa said. “Probably not the best play to run.”
The game, for all its quality, lurched to an odd end. After the clutch stop, St. Mary’s (2-0) rattled off three first downs and were only a few snaps away from game-ending kneel-downs.
Knowing this, the Central Catholic defense conceded Asante Carter’s third touchdown, a 42-yard rip with 1:52 left. The Raiders still would have had a chance until a costly encroachment penalty on the PAT. The Rams promptly yanked their kicking team off the field, and Carter dashed into the end zone for the 2-pointer and the decisive nine-point lead.
The penalty capped a woeful evening by Central Catholic’s special teams. Besides the blocked kicks, Central Catholic also punted poorly, one which led to a short field and St. Mary’s first touchdown. Fortunately for the Raiders, they recovered a fumbled kickoff.
“We still were right there,” Canepa said. “St. Mary’s is good. So are we.”
St. Mary’s frenetic spread offense again proved to be too much for the Raiders. Starting quarterback Samson Hunkin, a suitable running mate alongside Carter, passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns and also scored on the ground.
The teams, as always, clashed styles: St. Mary’s and its go-go offense which barely huddles between plays, and Central Catholic, which walks to the line of scrimmage and then presents the next-level athleticism of Wentworth and receivers Hernandez (9 catches, 173 yards, 2 TDs), Brooklyn Cheek and running back Joey Alcutt (14 carries, 86 yards, TD).
Central Catholic finally found a way to keep the St. Mary’s offense off the field in the third period. The Raiders drove inexorably, an efficient 21-play 80-yard marathon that consumed over 10 minutes. On third-and-goal from the 4 after a timeout, Central Catholic hurried to the line and quick-snapped a handoff to fullback Wyatt Dragoo, who scrummed across the goal line.
The Raiders then caught St. Mary’s off-guard on the 2-point try. The Raiders unbalanced their line to the right, but Wentworth – whose bootleg runs outflanked St. Mary’s all night – peeled to the left for the deuce and CC's only lead 33-27.
Ironically, the success of the TD and conversion plays may have convinced Canepa to run on fourth down late in the game.
St. Mary’s trailed for only a few minutes. Franks turned to his bench and trotted out more talent in sophomore quarterback Devin Rasmussen and his strong arm. He completed both his passes, the second a 44-yarder to Cayden Ward, and Carter pounded home from the 2. The Rams were ahead to stay.
The buzz from the crowd, however, centered on Wentworth. The Raiders surely will depend on his skill-level all season. He even made a difference on defense as a safety. His only drawback was a second-half injury to Hernandez, his favorite target. Earlier, Wentworth and Hernandez connected on a perfect 80-yard post-pattern catch-and run, a precision strike that signaled to St. Mary’s that the game would not be easy.
Asked if Wentworth was the game's top player, Canepa cut to the chase: “Always is.”
St. Mary’s 42, Central Catholic 33
Central Catholic 7-18-8-0 – 33
St. Mary’s 14-13-0-15 – 42
SM – Samson Hunkin 5 run (Matthew Kain kick)
CC – Joey Alcutt 67 run (Xavier Diep kick)
SM – Ivan Huerta 27 pass from Hunkin (Kain kick)
CC – TP Wentworth 17 run (kick blocked)
SM – Kenneth Moore III 20 pass from Hunkin (kick failed)
CC – Trace Hernandez 80 pass from Wentworth (kick blocked)
SM – Asante Carter 2 run (Kain kick)
CC – Hernandez 34 pass from Wentworth (pass failed)
CC – Wyatt Dragoo 4 run (Wentworth run)
SM – Carter 2 run (Kain kick)
SM – Carter 42 run (Carter run)
Records: Central Catholic 1-1, St. Mary’s 2-0
JV: Central Catholic 34-13.