STOCKTON — Possession might be nine-tenths of the law, but on the football field speed can dominate the remaining 10 percent.
Central Catholic went into Friday night's Holy Bowl against St. Mary's planning to play keep-away. Simply, if the Rams didn't have the ball, they could score. But all that went out the window when the Rams repeatedly used their overall speed advantage to rip-off big plays, eventually sprinting away to a 47-27 victory.
Of the seven touchdowns scored by the Rams (2-0,) five came on plays of 42 yards or longer to cap drives of three or fewer plays. That's the kind of quick-strike capability that can counter any kind of ball control plan.
"We're not a huge big-play offense, but we can score quickly," said Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa. "They hit us with big plays and that's how we lose."
The Raiders had won 13 straight games since last season's Sept. 14 loss to Downey. That was Central Catholic's second loss of the season, and it took those two losses all the way to a state small schools bowl championship.
So this loss does nothing to curtail the Raiders' dream of returning to Carson. But it did expose the team's overall weaknesses. One is the lack of speed, which shouldn't hurt Central Catholic too much as it takes on Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV schools.
But the other weakness will have to be addressed. The Raiders were effective in running against the Rams, gaining 246 yards on the ground. But when it came time to pass, Central Catholic was at a loss.
The Raiders misfired on their first nine passes, with only three of those attempts hitting receivers' hands. They finished five-of-19 through the air for 16 yards.
"It all goes back to practice," said senior quarterback Donovin Townsend, who delivered an impassioned post-game pep talk to his team after the coaches had walked away. "It's about how we practice. Everything that they got tonight we gave them. We shot ourselves in the foot. ...
"Offensively we need to get stuff done. Plain and simple we need to line up and play ball."
Well, that's exactly what the Raiders did for the first 15 minutes. Central opened with an 11-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard TD run by Reggie Bland the first of his three scores.
But St. Mary's scored on its second play when a missed tackle allowed Demetrius Ferguson to sprint up the sidelines to score from 78 yards out after catching a short hitch pass from Kaleb Parrish. He would finish 8-of-10 for 200 yards and four TDs.
Central went right back to the ground, embarking on a 10-play, 74-yard march, with Bland scoring from the 2. After having his first attempt blocked, Kenny Smart started a new PAT streak and the Raiders led 13-6. At that point, the Raiders had run 21 plays to the Rams' 3.
"We didn't care much about the pass because our game plan was to keep the ball away from them," Canepa said. "The more chances St. Mary's gets, the more they're going to score, and keep-away was the way we've beaten them in years past. It was perfect in the first quarter with a seven-minute drive."
The Rams started packing the box with nine defenders after those first two drives, and Central stopped moving the ball. And when St. Marys scored on all three of its second-quarter possessions to take a 27-13 lead, the Raiders were in trouble.
They did manage to pull within a score at 34-27 late in the third quarter on a Matt Ringer touchdown run of 6 yards. He finished with 112 yards on 16 carries. Then after a defensive stop Central Catholic had one chance to forge a tie, only to be stopped by three procedure calls in the next series.
St. Marys got into the end zone the next two times it had the ball, ending Centrals keep-away game and taking a 13-10 lead in the Holy Bowl series.
We havent lost in a while and our kids arent used to losing, Canepa said. Now well see how these kids react.
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek