Central Catholic sophomore Jordan Barton is being fast-tracked for his first varsity appearance.
A promising quarterback, Barton has been called up from the junior varsity team to serve as the backup to senior Theo Azevedo for the Raiders’ first round game Thursday. No. 3 Central Catholic (8-1) opens the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs against No. 14 Stagg (7-3) of Stockton.
“They’re going to compete,” Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa said on Tuesday. “I’ve got three days to figure out what we’re going to do for a playoff run. We don’t have much time. We have to regroup, but we’ll be alright.”
The Raiders, easily the smallest school in the bracket, are favored to advance to the second round for the second consecutive season, despite their concerns under center. Starter Kyle Jackson is out indefinitely with a knee injury after a scary tackle in last week's loss to Oakdale, and Azevedo threw two interceptions that fueled the Mustangs' comeback.
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"We didn't lose because of our quarterbacks," Canepa said. "We lost as a team, because we didn't do the little things."
Barton fills the void left by Jackson, who limped off David Patton Field in an air cast.
Jackson was tackled and bent back awkwardly over his left leg with 2:05 remaining in the first half. Initially, coach Roger Canepa thought the sophomore had fractured his leg. On Tuesday, he feared it might be ligament damage. "Best-case scenario, he comes back for a championship game," Canepa said, "but we just don't know."
Central Catholic won’t know the full extent of Jackson’s injury until Thursday, game day against Stagg, the San Joaquin Athletic Association champion.
In Barton, Canepa is preparing for the worst-case scenario: a postseason without Jackson, a prospect who compares favorably to former star and three-time CIF State champion. Hunter Petlansky. Jackson started six games, guiding the Raiders to a runner-up finish in the Valley Oak League.
Jackson seized the starting job when Azevedo suffered a shoulder injury against St. Mary’s and started Central Catholic’s biggest games of the season: a 31-14 victory at Manteca, his hometown team; and the loss to Oakdale. Jackson has thrown for 452 yards and five touchdowns, completing 51 of his passes (25 of 49). He’s also rushed for 178 yards and three more scores.
“The kids are disappointed they lost, but they feel like they should have won,” said Canepa, whose team surrendered leads of 14-0 and 21-7. “It could have went either way. We had way more chances, but we just couldn’t take advantage of them. “I like our attitudes. We haven’t lost anything, you with me? We’re still in the playoffs. We still have a chance at a section title. We still have a chance at NorCals. We still have a chance at State. That’s where you want to be, and you want a team with a good attitude.”
Canepa said Azevedo and Barton will share snaps in practice. Barton needs the reps to adjust quickly to the varsity game, he added, because both QBS will factor into Thursday’s game plan.
Azevedo (16 of 36, 159 yards, three touchdowns) is the taller of the two and has a stronger grasp of the playbook, while Canepa believes Barton has the strongest arm in the program and is a better threat with his feet.
Barton’s also no stranger to the spotlight. He led the Raiders’ junior varsity team to an undefeated season and a VOL title, including wins over St. Mary’s, Manteca and Oakdale. He completed 50 of his 70 passes for 1,006 yards, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio was nearly perfect: 18 to 1.
Regardless of who plays, Canepa will continue to attack and push the envelope.
“We have good receivers. We have capable players,” Canepa said. “We don’t want to be one-dimensional, but we could. We could line up and go mano-y-mano, or we could spread you out. Our thing is we have to take care of the football.”