STOCKTON — The old football adage says that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.
Central Catholic safety Jackson Finch made the biggest play of the night Friday in the Raiders frighteningly close 17-14 victory over McClymonds (Oakland) in the CIF Division 4 Northern California championship game at Lincoln Highs Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Central Catholic will play at the StubHub Center in Carson on Friday when it will attempt to win a second consecutive state championship. The Raiders (14-1) will take on Bakersfield Christian (12-2), a 40-8 winner over View Park (Los Angeles).
With Central nursing a 17-8 fourth quarter lead, the Raiders marched to the Warriors 1-yard line where they faced fourth-and-goal.
Fullback Reggie Bland was stopped for no gain and McClymonds took over with 4:13 to play.
On third-and-six, quarterback Emoni Fountain dropped back and found Lavon Washington, who somehow picked the ball of his shoetops and outmuscled the defender for the ball at the 40.
From there he was off to the races.
Or so it appeared.
Finch, the last line of defense for CC, made an open-field tackle on the University of Washington-bound Washington at the 22.
If they had scored on that play then we have to make a couple of first downs, said CC defensive coordinator Billy Hylla.
Finchs tackle forced McClymonds to waste another 2 1/2 minutes of valuable time.
Honestly, its like they always say: Great tacklers make great open-field tackles, said Finch, who wore an ear-to-ear smile after the victory. That was just an opportunity for me to make a big tackle in the open field.
The Warriors eventually scored to pull with three points, 17-14, with 60 seconds to play.
And when their onside-kick attempt rolled out of bonds, Central quarterback Hunter Petlansky took a knee twice and the celebration ensued.
McClymonds hurt itself in the first quarter during two, promising drives.
On the games opening possession, the Warriors marched inside the Raiders 10-yard line but Washington fumbled and Bland, playing linebacker, recovered at the four.
On its next possession, Mack again was driving, but three infractions a chop block, a hold, and illegal procedure brought up a third-and-31 and, eventually, another punt.
With all of McClymonds focus on CC tailback Matt Ringer early, Petlansky twice found former starting quarterback Townsend on 40-yard gainers. He later connected on a third 40-yard gainer a touchdown to an embarrassingly wide open Jared Rice, who also had an interception in the game.
After the second Petlansky-to-Townsend connection took the ball inside the red zone, and on the next play, Ringer suffered a thigh bruise and exited for the sideline with about 4 minutes to play in the first half.
The drive stalled, but kicker Kenny Smart salvaged three points with a 27-yard field goal with 3:14 to play in the second for a 10-0 lead.
Townsend had given the Raiders a 7-0 lead with a 12-yard run about seven minutes earlier.
With just over 2 minutes left in the first half, Fountain found Louis White for a 39-yard TD. Fountain hit Marcel Jackson wide open in the end zone for a two-point conversion, cutting the Raiders lead to 10-8.
With McClymonds driving early in the fourth quarter, safety Rice picked off Fountain on the 15 it was the fourth consecutive drive that the Warriors turned the ball over and returned it 30 yards to CCs 45.
In addition to Rices interception Drew Loya and Nic Navarro also had picks. Navarro and Bland also had fumble recoveries in the game.
You cant win with five turnovers, said McClymonds coach Michael Peters, whose team saw its season end for a second straight year with a NorCal loss to Central Catholic. Theyre a great team. Theyre state champions.