Jackson Finch has been hearing it from the Central Catholic coaching staff for the better part of three months now.
“My coaches have been giving me grief because I hadn’t returned (a punt) for a touchdown this season,” said Finch, whose 60-yard return was part of a 30-point, second-quarter onslaught in the Raiders’ 57-27 drubbing of Colfax in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 playoffs. “They’ve been giving me the blues, so I told them, ‘Today’s the day.’ Thank God I got one.”
Second-seeded Central Catholic (11-1) will host No. 4 Ripon (11-1) on Friday at David Patton Field. The Raiders beat the Indians 40-21 in the playoffs last season on their march to the state championship.
Finch’s touchdown came with CC holding a 17-6 lead. The Falcons had a chance to cut into that lead, but receiver Kyle Bryant dropped a perfectly thrown ball from quarterback Michael Wilson that almost certainly would’ve gone for an 85-yard TD. Two plays later, Colfax was forced to punt, and Finch put the Raiders ahead by three scores.
“We played well in all facets of the game,” said Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa. “Offense, defense and special teams. That’s what you have to do. I’m just proud to keep winning.”
Sophomore quarterback Hunter Petlansky, making just his second start of his career, completed 5 of 8 passes for 115 yards. Those numbers would’ve looked even prettier if not for a couple of early drops.
“I feel like I’m getting more comfortable,” said Petlansky, who took over when senior Donovin Townsend was injured against Patterson on Nov. 8. “And last week was a nice week to get my first start.”
What Petlansky was too nice to say was that last week’s game against Marysville, CC’s first-round opponent, wasn’t much more than a scrimmage and the sophomore gained valuable on-the-job experience. He’ll face a stiffer test next week against Ripon’s stout defense.
“Ripon’s a great team,” said the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Petlansky. “I actually know a lot of those guys. I played for the Ripon Christian Knights when I was younger.”
The Raiders’ offense got off to a shaky start, going three-and-out on their first three possessions and trailed 6-0. The third time they punted, Colfax’s Alex Nevarez signaled for a fair catch, but couldn’t hang on, and CC’s Timmy Gutierrez pounced on it. On the next play, the first of the second quarter, Petlansky found Townsend for a 12-yard strike that made it 7-6 after Kenny Smart’s PAT.
Three plays after that, the Raiders’ Jared Rice came through with the first of his two interceptions, and returned the ball 23 yards to the Falcons 23. A short, four-play drive ended with Petlansky scrambling in from the 8, making it 14-6.
Smart booted a 21-yard field goal, Finch made his prediction hold up, and running back Matt Ringer scored on a 3-yard plunge as the Raiders pulled away to a 30-6 halftime lead.
Ringer, who went over 1,800 yards for the season, carried the ball 27 times for 87 hard-earned yards. The Falcons seemed to have one thing on their mind: Matt Ringer will not beat us tonight.
Ringer barely averaged 3 yards per carry on Friday as Colfax did a good job of containing him, but his big contribution came when he hit Gutierrez for a 50-yard halfback option that made it 44-13 midway through the third.
Linebacker/halfback Reggie Bland had a pair of sacks and a deflected pass on the defensive side, and carried the ball seven times for 63 yards, which included a 54-yard TD run — his second score of the game.
“I just read the block of my fullback, Miguel Hernandez,” said Bland, describing his long TD run. “I cut it up, underneath him, and I saw a hole and just went for it.
“We played pretty well tonight, but we’ll need to pick it up against Ripon next week. ... It’s crunch time.”