STOCKTON -- Central Catholic was so prepared for Saturday's game against Escalon, it was overprepared.
The Raiders put in a new series of passes for the SacJoaquin Section Division 4 title game, expecting to have to go to the air to move the ball consistently against the Cougars, and they all worked.
But they also were entirely unnecessary, as the Rey and Ray Show running backs Rey Vega and Ray Lomas combined for 329 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-10 Raiders' victory at Lincoln High.
It was the unprecedented 16th section football crown for Central Catholic and the first for Roger Canepa in his 17 seasons as head coach at Central, Calaveras and Sonora.
"We worked on a couple pass routes and hit every one of them.," Canepa said. "I'm so proud of them - what a great effort. We played four quarters and we're a very good football team when we do that."
The Raiders' season is likely to continue into the first-ever NorCal regional round. Both Central Catholic and Oakdale will find out around 3 p.m. today about playing in next weekend's games, whose winners advance to the state bowls Dec. 14-15 in Carson.
In the Raiders' case, more action would be a just reward for a team that just now is playing its best football of the season.
Central appeared all but unstoppable, rolling up 510 yards of offense against an Escalon program seeking its ninth blue banner.
But the Cougars, to reach this point, had to survive taxing an emotional road wins against top-seeded Placer and Los Banos, with the latter game extending into four overtimes.
"We left Placer with hardly anything left in the tank, then limped down to Los Banos and emptied the tank for sure," said Escalon coach Mark Loureiro. "We made a few mistakes, but when the other team is better than you at nine of 11 positions it's tough to beat them. We were just kinda hanging on."
That especially was evident in the second half, when Central Catholic ran just 10 plays to gain 262 yards and score 28 points after taking a 24-10 halftime lead.
The Raiders ran nine plays in the third quarter and gained 179 yards, including a touchdown pass of 41 yards from Garrett Ardis to Nate Loya and scoring runs of 55 yards by Vega and 5 yards by Lomas.
With Escalon on the wrong end of a fourth-quarter running clock for the first time in school history, Central Catholic ran only one fourth-quarter play, and Vega took it for an 83-yard scoring sprint.
Vega finished with 214 yards on 18 carries to give him 1,200 yards and 22 scores in his eight games in a Central uniform. Lomas added 115 yards on 10 carries and has 1,765 rushing yards this season.
"They could have handed off to those two tailbacks all night long and just kept taking turns having those two guys score," Loureiro said.
The potency of the Raiders' ground game was a given. The souped-up passing game was the twist installed for this game.
Central has thrown well at times this season, but averaged fewer than 120 yards per game and only once in its 45-42 loss to Downey threw for more than 200 yards.
Against the Cougars, however, the Raiders established the threat of the pass early.
After Escalon surprised Central with an onside kick, then converted it into a 27-yard field goal by Thomas Diniz, the Raiders struck pack on their fourth play from scrimmage.
A play-action fake to Vega froze the Escalon safeties long enough for receiver Chris Lein to get free on a post pattern, and Ardis hit him for a 54-yard score.
"I told the players during the week that we were going to throw that post pattern and it would go for a touchdown," Canepa said.
Vega's first touchdown run, covering 26 yards, boosted Central's lead to 14-3 before Escalon scored on their best drive of the game, an eight-play, 78-yard march that ended with a 7-yard pass from Phillip Kimble to Jason Robbins.
The Cougars would not score again, and the Raiders extended the lead before halftime on a 3-yard run by Lomas and a 32-yard field goal by Kenny Smart, clearing the way for a near-perfect second half in which Central needed to throw only one pass.
At the moment of the final gun, Central earned a new fan.
"Roger's worked his butt off for this and I know how hard he's worked because we're good friends," Loureiro said. "He does deserve a section championship, but I wish it hadn't come against me.
"I'm proud of Roger and what he's done and I'll be disappointed if they don't finish this all the way to the end and represent our area well."
And for Canepa, career win No. 170 finally came with a section title.
"I think Mark's happy for me," Canepa said. "Hey, I hadn't won one before today. We're both very good football coaches and I'm tired of having people say I can't win this game. It's nice to get this one. It's nice to get this off my back."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.