MODESTO – The Central Catholic High Raiders chatted with teammates, friends and fans, all while feeling the pangs of disappointment and creeping resignation. Their football season had ended.
Half the teams are eliminated each week during the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, and it was the Raiders’ turn in the barrel Friday night. There will be no 21st blue banner for Central Catholic, at least not this year, after their 31-14 loss to Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills in the Division I semifinals.
“I’m a bad loser, and that makes you a competitor,” said CC coach Roger Canepa, who last week became the winningest coach in section history. “If you like losing…I can’t take it very well.”
Canepa’s No. 2-seeded team (9-3), the Valley Oak League champion, was shut out in the second half. That’s system-shock for a team averaging 43 points a game, but consider: The strong and alert Oak Ridge defense yielded only 17 points per game before its trip to Patton Field, and it was the D’s effort – mixed in with two explosive plays on offense – that separated these two high-level sides.
Oak Ridge (10-2), seeded third, advances for a rematch with Sierra Foothill League champion Folsom for the D-I championship next week in Sacramento. Meanwhile, the Raiders will store the equipment and plan for better days.
“They (Oak Ridge) were good but we moved the ball. We just couldn’t get in,” Canepa reasoned. “I didn’t make good calls on fourth down.”
Central Catholic was outgained 383-293 but had chances. The Raiders, down 21-14 at halftime, opened the second half with a timely turnover on special teams. A hit by Wyatt Dragoo produced a fumble recovered by Titus Leota at the OR 30 yard line.
The Raiders reached the 16 but stalled, as senior quarterback Tyler Paul Wentworth threw wide to an open receiver near the goal line, was pressured into an incompletion, then missed again.
Two plays later, Oak Ridge quarterback Joaquin Graves-Mercado scrambled away from Wentworth – the free safety – and others before heaving a pass downfield that looked destined to fail. Instead, it sailed over the CC coverage and into the arms of Kaleb Edwards, who finished off the 81-yard touchdown. That resulted in a 28-14 deficit and a lot of blinking red lights for the home team.
The 6-foot-5 Wentworth capped a brilliant football career by passing for 135 yards and rushing for 61. But he also was sacked five times by a bothersome pass rush and tossed two interceptions to linebacker Gavin Malloy.
The first stopped a drive at the OR 24, and the second – after a 45-yard field goal by Alex Henslee – ended all suspense with 4:23 left.
“Good team. Big upfront, for sure,” Wentworth said as he described the visitors from the foothills. “They just played good ball, played clean and didn’t turn the ball over.”
FBS commits on both sides were hard to miss. This was a summit meeting, and Central Catholic responded to Oak Ridge’s deferral with a game-opening 60-yard drive for a touchdown. Joey Alcutt pounded in from the 10.
Oak Ridge answered on its first snap. Jason Womack raced to his right, then pivoted to his left and wrong-footed the Raiders’ pursuit. His 62-yard gain preceded a short blast, the first of two touchdowns by Erick Orme Jr. (18 carries, 106 yards).
The Trojans marched 69 yards on 10 plays on its next possession to take the lead, but Central Catholic patiently plodded 52 yards on 13 plays. The payoff was Wentworth at his best. On 4th-and-long from the OR 20, he found room to his left, went airborne at the pylon and reached the ball over the line as he was hit by two defenders.
Central Catholic’s 14-14 stalemate lasted exactly one snap, as Oak Ridge took the lead to stay on a bit of legal deception. Or was it legal?
Oak Ridge broke the huddle but receiver Jadon Anderson, not far from the Trojans’ bench, stood alone, uncovered and unchecked by the Raider defense.
Graves-Mercado immediately tossed to his right to Anderson, who romped by himself 57 yards for the go-ahead score. The rules stipulate that a receiver doesn’t have to break the huddle if he at least reaches the numbers.
Oak Ridge coach Casey Taylor, a veteran like Canepa, maintained all rules were followed.
“We just broke the huddle. They didn’t cover us,” Taylor said. “It’s like a hideout, but it wasn’t a hideout.”
Canepa didn’t buy it. In fact, he raged at the referee after the play and again as the teams walked into the locker room at halftime.
“It’s a sleeper play. He never got to the numbers,” Canepa argued. “It’s illegal. It’s been illegal for years. …You can’t get that wide open unless you do something wrong.”
The trickery stood, however, and Oak Ridge never trailed again. Fact is, the Trojans’ defense battled to at least a stalemate against the huge CC offensive line, and also contained dangerous receivers Brooklyn Cheek (6 catches, 85 yards) and Trace Hernandez. Alcutt managed only 68 yards on 14 carries, and Wentworth’s longest completion was only 27 yards.
“You gotta have a road win to see how good you are as a team,” Taylor said. “We play good football in Sacramento and the Sierra Foothill League is tough. We have a good group that wants to continue.”
Oak Ridge 31, Central Catholic 14
Oak Ridge 14-7-7-3 – 31
Central Catholic 7-7-0-0—14
CC—Joey Alcutt 10 run (Xavier Diep kick)
OR—Erick Orme Jr. 4 run (Alex Henslee kick)
OR—Orme Jr. 2 run (Henslee kick)
CC—Tyler Paul Wentworth 20 run (Diep kick)
OR—Jadon Anderson 57 pass from Joaquin Graves-Mercado(Henslee kick)
OR—Kaleb Edwards 81 pass from Graves-Mercado (Henslee kick)
OR—FG Henslee 45
Records—OR 10-2, CC 9-3