Central Catholic outlasts Hilmar, wins Sac-Joaquin Section crown

jcortez@modbee.comDecember 7, 2013 

— Junior Nic Navarro has only started at cornerback for Central Catholic’s football team the past two weeks.

He’s made the most of his promotion.

Navarro, who had two key interceptions in the Raiders’ semifinal victory last week, delivered the key defensive play Saturday in their 24-10 victory over previously unbeaten Hilmar to claim the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 championship game at Lincoln High’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

With the victory, Central Catholic (13-1) secures its 17th blue banner – a Sac-Joaquin Section record – and is a virtual lock to move to next week’s Division 4 regional bowl game. The Raiders’ opponent is likely to be McClymonds (Oakland), a team they beat 38-14 on Sept. 13 at David Patton Field.

The CIF section commissioners will vote today on which teams advance. But on Saturday, Raiders coach Roger Canepa wasn’t thinking about any of that.

“People don’t understand – we’ve played (30) games in the past two seasons,” said Canepa, whose team will play in No. 31 next week. “That’s three football seasons in two years. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the players and of the coaching staff.”

Even though Central Catholic bolted to a 24-0 first-half lead – and appeared on their way to a running-clock victory – this game still was up for grabs with less than eight minutes to play.

Hilmar cut the deficit to 24-10 on quarterback Jonathan O’Brien’s 10-yard TD run less than a minute into the fourth quarter and, with the TD, snatched the game’s momentum.

After forcing Central to go three-and-out, and taking over on CC’s 40, the Yellowjackets’ crowd was at its loudest as Hilmar marched 35 yards in less than two minutes and had first-and-goal at the 5.

“This is special group of kids and they never quit,” said Hilmar coach Frank Marques. “Our offense found some things that kept them off balance; we had to keep plugging away and try everything in our playbook.”

An incomplete pass and two rushing attempts that netted 2 yards brought up fourth-and-goal from the 3, setting the stage for the game’s pivotal play.

“That play was everything,” said Canepa, who guided the Raiders to a state championship last season. “He made a great play. You know, he didn’t start at corner for us until last week and made two picks for us in that game.”

O’Brien, lined up in the shotgun, took the snap, stepped back and let fly toward his favorite target, Tyler Robinson, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior who averaged nearly 18 yards per reception this season. Robinson, lined up wide to the right, ran a slant toward the middle of the end zone.

“I knew he was going to run the slant or fade,” said Navarro, a 5-10, 165-pound junior who lined up in press coverage. “He gave a little stutter-step and once I saw that I knew it was the slant.”

With the ball heading toward Robinson – low and away, where only Robinson could corral it, Navarro dove and was able to slap the ball away.

“When the ball left my hand I felt I’d put it in a good spot,” said O’Brien, a junior who was intercepted just twice this season while throwing 24 TDs. “He just jumped the route and was able to swat it down.”

From there, it was time for 2,000-yard workhorse Matt Ringer.

Taking over possession on their own three, the Raiders gave the ball to Ringer on the next nine plays before being forced to punt. When Kenny Smart’s kick ricocheted off Giovanni Salcedo’s ankle and into the arms of Jonah Friedrich, Central took over on the Yellowjackets’ 44, and gave the ball to Ringer the next four plays.

By the time Ringer fumbled on the 31, he’d pushed his rushing total to 243 yards on 40 carries – it was the fourth time this year he’s carried at least 32 times in a game – and Hilmar had only 90 seconds with which to get two scores.

As time expired on the clock, the Central Catholic players ran to the middle for a mass celebration. Everybody, that is, except for Ringer.

Ringer trailed behind his teammates, walking slowly toward the scrum.

“Resting,” said Ringer, when asked about his leisurely stroll. “I had too little energy to even jump around.”

Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at jcortez@modbee.com or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps.

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