MODESTO — Matt Ringer's heavily taped ankle throbbed, as it had for about the last two months. A bew abrasions decorated his sweat-streaked race. He was tired, sore and happy.
Central Catholic's 205-pound fire hydrant of a running back had just carried his team to a Western Athletic Conference title.
"A lot of pounding," Ringer said. "I have felt better, but I'm used to it."
He'll absorb the pain for the joy circling him on the field Friday night after the Raiders' razor-thin 17-13 win over previously unbeaten Patterson.
All Ringer did was carry the ball 39 times for 285 yards and the winning touchdown. Not a single yard came easily.
Patterson (9-1, 5-1), riding its first 9-0 record in school history, walked into Patton Field with confidence. The Tigers deferred to start the game while their fans, all wearing black, packed the visitors' side.
They led 13-3 at halftime, leaving Central Catholic (9-1, 6-0) the reigning small schools state champion to wonder if it would submit in its farewell WAC game. The Raiders answered.
"They're a good football team," said a weary CC coach Roger Canepa in praise of his opponent. "Thank God we wore them out. We did what we do best."
That's giving their guests a major dose of Ringer, whose brilliant season (1,596 yards, 24 touchdowns) has slipped slightly beneath the radar in the Stanislaus District. Fact is, the Raiders would not be celebrating today without him.
His 13-yard burst for the winning touchdown with 11:13 left demonstrated how and why Central Catholic prevailed over the determined Tigers. Ringer found a crease to his right behind Spencer Stark, CC's roadgrading 305-pound right tackle, then cut inside a solid block by fullback Reggie Bland and raced into the end zone standing up.
"I trust Matt because he can make it through the hole," Stark said. "I make the hole."
Stark and his friends up front had no choice. Raiders lefty quarterback Donovin Townsend injured his left shoulder during the second quarter, and sophomore Hunter Pentlansky was summoned for the rest of the game.
Patterson packed eight defenders into the box to contain Ringer, who subbed during the second half with Bland (15 carries, 69 yards). Bland's 5-yard scoring blast during the third quarter, two plays after Ringer's momentum-shifting 42-yard gallop, closed the gap to 13-10.
"The brutality of the game required two backs," Ringer said. "Reggie showed what he can do."
The game played out true to form Central Catholic's brute force vs. Patterson's thrill-a-moment spread. Tigers quarterback Damien Paulo (36-20-1, 229 yards, TD) often found his favorite receiver Avion Warmsley (10 catches, 129 yards) slicing in front of the coverage for reception after reception.
Patterson changed the game on defense, however, when Jordan Levu picked up an exchange fumble and sped 50 yards to put the Tigers ahead 7-3 during the second quarter. Then, with only 7 seconds left in the half, the Tigers landed another punch when Warmsley somehow fighting around the tight coverage of corner Timmy Gutierrez cradled Paulo's perfect 43-yard touchdown strike.
Central Catholic responded by allowing only four first downs in the second half and, of course, more Ringer.
"We played one of our best games all year. They got a big play or two from Ringer and it stuck," Patterson coach Nick Marchy said. "We have a great program. Our kids are having a great time."
They also had one more chance to win after linebacker Ruben Rosas stripped the ball from Ringer and hustled 24 yards to the Central Catholic 38 late in the game.
All it netted was a punt, however, and the Raiders ate the final 6:02. The game ended with Pentlansky taking a knee at the Patterson 2 as CC fans rushed onto the field.
One of their targets, of course, was Ringer.