Central Catholic's Matt Ringer was standing at the center of David Patton Field following the Raiders' 38-24 win over McClymonds (Oakland) when 4-year-old Landon Corcoran approached.
Little Landon didn't utter a word until the running back turned to notice him.
"Hey, Ringer," said the boy, looking like he was talking to a super hero. "I like you a lot."
Sentiments shared Friday night by every Central Catholic fan, no doubt.
Ringer carried the ball 40 times yes, 40! and totaled 272 yards and four TDs in a rematch of last year's NorCal final, also won by CC.
"The running game started up really well tonight and we just kept with it," said Ringer. "And my line blocked like it's never blocked before.
"McClymonds has some big guys and some hard hitters. At the end of the first quarter, I knew I was in for a long game."
With McClymonds holding a decisive edge in overall team speed, it was clear that running around the edges or getting receivers open downfield would difficult.
That meant extra work for Ringer, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior who plays tailback and middle linebacker. That's right, when he wasn't slamming into Mack's defensive line, he was chasing down the likes of Lavance Warren (24 carries, 200 yards, 3 TDs) and Lavon Washington (48-yard TD reception, 93-yard kickoff return to the 5), who has given his commitment to play at the University of Washington next year.
"We haven't seen speed like that and we just came from playing St. Mary's," said Central Catholic head coach Roger Canepa. "Nothing against St. Mary's, but these guys are faster."
The Raiders held a 14-12 edge at halftime thanks to 2-yard TD runs from Ringer and Reggie Bland but on the opening drive of the second half, Warren broke free for a 61-yard dash to give the Warriors an 18-14 advantage.
At that point, Warren had 170 yards on 13 carries. However, his final 11 carries of the night produced just 30 yards.
"We made some adjustments," said Canepa. "Instead of going A gap, we went B gap; we blitzed a little more; the 'backers took some different gaps.
"We tackled better and played better."
After falling behind for the first time, the Raiders went back to the run, of course. And all that running paid dividends when quarterback Donovin Townsend surprised McClymonds with a 36-yard strike to junior tight end Jared Rice.
A couple of plays later, Ringer finished off the drive, breaking five tackles to score from 11 yards out.
McClymonds punted on its next three drives and Central scored on each, getting a 23-yard field goal from Harvard-bound Kenny Smart, and TD runs of 8 and 25 yards from Ringer.
The Raiders led 38-18 with 7:07 to play, but Washington took Smart's kickoff at the 2, and wasn't touched again until Smart horse-collared him at the 5. Warren would eventually punch it in to make it 38-24 with more than 5 minutes to play.
"I was still nervous at that point," said Canepa. "Seriously, that's a scary football team."
A loss would've done serious damage to Central's quest to return to a bowl game and defend its state championship.
"We knew it was a big game," said Ringer, whose team beat the Warriors 42-12 to earn a berth to last season's Division 4 state title game in Carson. "If we lose tonight, state is kind of out. We put a lot on the line."
Bee sports writer Joe Cortez can be reached at email@example.com or 209-578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @modbeepreps.