When the Central Catholic football team travels south this week for the CIF State Championship Bowl Game, it’ll do so with an ease it didn’t quite have last year.
The Raiders, who take on Bakersfield Christian in the Division 4 title game Friday at 4 p.m., will benefit big in becoming among the few programs who have made back-to-back appearances on the state’s biggest football stage, coach Roger Canepa said Monday.
To be sure, this isn’t the Super Bowl on Bourbon Street. But, there are plenty of logistics involved for teams participating Friday and Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson.
There’s travel, lodging, game tickets for family, passes for school administrators, scheduling your team’s walk-through, finding a direct, stress-free route to the stadium and even locating a place to feed a football team.
The Raiders will stay in the same Torrance hotel they did last year that sits about 15 minutes from the stadium where they cruised to a 66-7 victory over Santa Fe Christian of Solana Beach.
There will be a couple of tweaks this week, but with a lot of the players having been through this last year, Canepa says they’ll be clear to focus simply on the game.
“It’s like when you go on vacation one year and come back the next,” he said. “There are some things we didn’t like that we can take out. Now we can get our times dialed in a little better and plan a better trip.”
Trip, yes. Vacation, no.
“We’re making sure that everyone knows this is a business trip,” Canepa said. “We’re going to enjoy it. But we’re going down there and focus on the task at hand.”
The task would be beating the talented football team from Bakersfield Christian, a nondenominational college prep school with about 500 students that sits on 49 acres in west Bakersfield.
The Eagles are 12-2 and have not lost since Sept. 6, when they dropped a 34-33 decision to Valley Christian of Visalia. The week before, in its season opener, BC lost 32-10 at Huntington Beach.
Since then, the Eagles have run the table, including a wild 35-34 victory over Mission Oak to win the Central Section Division 4 title and last week’s 40-8 victory in the Southern California title game over View Park of Los Angeles. During its 12-game winning streak, BC has been limited to fewer than 40 points just three times.
Coached by Justin Pierucci, BC is led by quarterback Brandon Jones, who has 52 touchdown passes and has thrown for more than 4,000 yards. Running back Matt Smith has more than 1,500 yards rushing.
Canepa and his assistants spent time over the weekend looking at film of the Eagles. He said he didn’t want to compare BC with any teams his Raiders (14-1) have played this season. But, he’s sure this game won’t be a repeat of last year’s title-game rout.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” he said. “This is a very good football program.”
Pierucci, in comments to the Bakersfield Californian, likened Central Catholic to one of the two teams to beat his Eagles.
“They remind me a lot of (Central Valley Christian), a big front,” he said. “I don’t think they’re as physical as CVC’s line, but they’re a big up front line.
“But we’ve faced big lines. Wasco had a huge line. Mission Oak had a pretty good sized line.”
Canepa said running back Matt Ringer, whose rushed for 2,348 yards, should be good to go after injuring his thigh in Friday’s 17-14 NorCal bowl victory over McClymonds. However, in his best NFL speak, Canepa termed talented defensive back Drew Loya, who he said suffered a shoulder separation, as “questionable” for Friday.
The Raiders, who also are taking final exams this week, were scheduled to participate in a light practice on Monday and then go full today and Wednesday before driving to Southern California on Thursday morning.
Well, not too full.
“This is Week 16 for us,” Canepa said. “We’re not going to get any tougher. We’re not going to get in any better shape. We’ll try to stay healthy and clean up some things.”
He said he’s proud that his team has maintained its focus of “one game at a time” and became one of the few programs to make it to back-to-back state bowl games.
His Raiders joined De La Salle (every year since the state bowl began in 2006), Servite (2009-10), Serra (2009-10), Centennial-Corona (2007-08) and St. Bonaventure (2007-08) as the state’s only teams to make a return engagement.
“It’s hard to get back,” Canepa said. “That’s why you don’t see people do it a lot. You have to stay focused and healthy.
“We find ways to win and that’s what I love about our team.”