Clemson commit Tyler Paul Wentworth searches for an opening during Central Catholic season-opener against Merced (Samantha Schmidt).

Road-grade tough: Central Catholic rips for 413 rushing yards to thump Merced

Ron Agostini

MODESTO – The warm sun hung low in the western sky and sent long thin shadows across Patton Field on Friday evening, about the time the Central Catholic Raiders decided their game against Merced.

When your first two offensive plays from scrimmage cover 64 and 68 yards for touchdowns, you have delivered a convincing message.

The Raiders, road-grade tough up front, pounded for 413 rushing yards and – encouraged by their opening face-punch – thumped the Merced Bears 42-12.

“We’ve got some dudes,” a satisfied CC coach Roger Canepa summarized. “Merced battled, but I thought we dominated the second half.”

Central Catholic opened the 2023 season with perfection on offense. On their first snap, the Raiders aligned in their usual power-I formation but senior quarterback Tyler Paul Wentworth had no intention to hand it off. Instead, he floated a pass to fellow senior Brooklyn Cheek who was beyond the man coverage by two strides. 7-0.

Central Catholic's Brooklyn Cheek outruns Merced's Jordan DuPree to score just minutes into the season-opener (Samantha Schmidt).

On the Raiders' second snap, Wentworth gave it to junior Joey Alcutt, who raced behind a block by tackle Troy Leota and romped 68 yards. 14-0.

“I think (Coach Canepa) was planning to run on the first play during the week, but we saw them come out in man-to-man,” Cheek said. “I beat my guy.”

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the 6-foot-5 quarterback is headed for Clemson on a baseball scholarship and the receiver is bound for Cal. Besides, Canepa thinks he’s occasionally misunderstood.

“People think I like to run,” Canepa said. “I really like winning.”

It took Central Catholic, a perennial area heavyweight, exactly one night to announce that it’s business as usual. The Raiders’ roster is backloaded with seven linemen 260 pounds or heavier, and Leota – a senior checking in at 345 pounds – may be the best of them.

Then again, many CC fans noticed the guy handing out water bottles this night – Florida State commit Manasse Itete, the 280-pound former Modesto Christian basketball star who’s turned into a top-tier football prospect. He’ll add to the Raiders’ already scary line at midseason.

“It’s what we do,” Leota said. “The practices were hard. We took all our anger out on them.”

Canepa and Merced’s Rob Scheidt comprise over a half-century of head-coaching experience. Season-opening mistakes and penalties aside, the teams combined for only two turnovers. The Bears simply had no answer for Wentworth’s versatility or all that CC power.

CC's Troy Leota (bottom) and Seth Van Dyk work together to force Merced's Quintell DuPree to the ground (Samantha Schmidt).

“That always was going to be a tough opener for us. I think coach Canepa has one of his biggest and deepest teams,” Scheidt said. “We did some good things after we fell behind. If we keep our heads up, we’ll be fine.”

Central Catholic increased its lead to 21-0 on Trace Hernandez’s 11-yard inside burst. Merced, runner-up behind Patterson in the Central California Conference in 2022, then turned CC’s only turnover into its first touchdown.

The Bears marched 50 hard-earned yards in 11 plays, finished by a 1-yard smash by junior Adarias Morales-Saetern (7 carries, 76 yards).

 Trailing only 21-6 at the half, Merced aggressively sought a first down from its own 49 but failed. Nine plays later, Wentworth sneaked home from the 2.

 That’s when the Bears showed they’ll probably be better this season than Friday night’s final score. Quarterback Quintell DuPree was elusive and Chase Smith – the MVP of the CCC last year – hustled for good yardage.

Merced’s final points were eye-catching. DuPree stepped to his right, forced the coverage toward him, then tossed to Morales-Saetern alone. The play covered 57 yards and pulled the Bears to 28-12.

But the Bears missed both their extra points, while CC kicker Xavier Diep converted all six. Central Catholic’s line strength took its toll in the second half.

The Raiders, always a threat in the backfield, introduced a menacing pair in Alcutt (10 carries, 127 yards, 2 touchdowns) and sophomore Carter Meeks (11 carries, 107 yards). Meeks, an angular 180-pounder armed with speed and balance, could be the next CC star.

“Meeks eventually will go Division I,” Cheek predicted.

CC sophomore Carter Meeks fends off a Bear during the season-opener versus Merced (Samantha Schmidt).

 Then there was Wentworth, who completed four of six passes for 156 yards and the TD. On the ground, he accounted for 76 yards and two touchdowns. His play-action bootlegs kept Merced honest all night.

  Central Catholic rushed 42 times for its 413 yards and, tellingly, was pushed back for minus yardage only twice. It capped the night with a goal-line stand and a pair of scores. The Raiders outgained the visitors 578-275.

 Canepa liked what he saw. His team brandished old-school force and still gave the coaches some work to do. The Raider kick coverage yielded a game-opening onside kick and some major yards on returns. They also were whistled for 100 yards of penalties.

“It’s about getting better and getting on a roll for league,” said Canepa, whose Raiders will travel to Stockton next week to face a St. Mary’s side that opened with a 38-28 victory over Clovis West. “Overall, you take any win you can. As long as we keep getting better, we’ll be OK.”

Central Catholic 42, Merced 12

Merced                       0-6-6-0-- 12

Central Catholic    14-7-7-14 – 42


CC – Brooklyn Cheek 64 pass from Tyler Paul Wentworth (Xavier Diep kick)

CC – Joey Alcutt 68 run (Diep kick)


CC – Trace Hernandez 11 run (Diep kick)

M – Adarias Morales-Saetern 1 run (run failed)


CC – Wentworth 2 run (Diep kick)

M --  Morales-Saetern 57 pass from Quintell DuPree (kick failed)


CC – Wentworth 11 run (Diep kick)

CC – Alcutt 35 run (Diep kick)

JV – Central Catholic 47-0