St. Mary’s and Central Catholic lowered their shoulder pads and plowed into each other from start to finish. They fought for the smallest advantages as the sweat soaked their jerseys.
As both teams buckled in the late-summer heat Friday night, St. Mary’s prevailed. With 29 seconds to spare.
Quarterback Noah Righetti, on a designed bootleg, faked to his left to tailback Marcell Spady and darted to his right, beating the Raider defenders to the end zone. It was only right that those were the game’s hardest 5 yards, but they were enough to secure an 18-13 win in a Holy Bowl classic at Patton Field.
“Winning is a habit, and Central Catholic is used to winning,” St. Mary’s coach Tony Franks said in reference to CC’s back-to-back state small-school titles. “It’s a dogfight every time. There’s no advantage.”
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That said, Central Catholic has beaten St. Mary’s only twice since 2008. Worse for the Raiders, they’ll regret the small things that separated them from a come-from-behind win.
“That’s how close we were,” said CC coach Roger Canepa as he held his thumb and index finger barely apart.
A 14-yard rip to the left by quarterback Hunter Petlansky, his second touchdown of the game, put CC (1-1) in front 13-12 with 7:11 left. After the Raiders stopped St. Mary’s (2-0) at the CC 33-yard line, they appeared to gain control when running back Montell Bland powered into the St. Mary’s secondary.
His 20-yard gain was aborted, however, when Javonte Norman stripped the ball on the tackle and Myles Cunningham recovered at the SM 47. That gave the Golden Rams the final chance they needed.
Righetti kept his team alive with a 14-yard bullet to Demetrius Ferguson to convert a fourth-and-10 at the CC 26. Franks considered a potential winning field goal as St. Mary’s marched inside the 10, but the Rams struggled with their kicking game all night. Righetti rendered it all moot with his TD.
“The fumble and the (fourth-and-10) is what beat us,” Canepa said. “Last year, we got beat. This year, we could’ve won.”
Central Catholic’s trademark rushing attack was limited to 100 yards, 73 by Petlansky. St. Mary’s outgained the home team 237-175 as the defenses dominated. St. Mary’s front four, keyed by Cunningham, gave up ground grudgingly.
“I don’t think either team felt it moved the ball well,” Franks said. “Credit goes to both teams’ defenses.”
Indeed, Central Catholic stopped St. Mary’s at the CC 3-yard line during the first half. The Rams returned the favor with a hold at the 10 during the third quarter. Canepa opted for a touchdown try but Petlansky overthrew in the end zone.
“I didn’t think we’d get back there again,” Canepa said.
The decisive touchdown demonstrated the slight edge St. Mary’s carved. Righetti’s fake to the 220-pound Spady (21 carries, 105 yards, TD) created just enough room for the quarterback.
“Everyone could have done something better,” said Petlansky, his helmet still on his head 15 minutes after game’s end. “We fought for everything.”