CARSON -- As the final seconds ticked away in Saturday's CIF Division III State Championship Bowl Game, Louis Bland turned and slowly limped off the field.
On the other side of the field, the St. Bonaventure fans let loose with a loud cheer, the Seraphs' 35-21 victory moments away.
But some of them were cheering for Bland, too. Because on this sunny Saturday at the Home Depot Center, he was the best player on the field.
He shucked tacklers like they weren't there, bowling over other defenders on his way to 196 yards rushing and a touchdown.
He had five tackles at linebacker, but after the first series he was subjected to constant double-teams. Two of the tackles were for losses, one of those a picture-perfect ankle tackle of potential All-American running back Darrell Scott.
And in the end, as his team slowly walked toward its locker room, he grabbed outgoing coach Mike Glines in a bear hug, crying while television cameras recorded his every move.
Scott has more than 7,600 yards rushing in his career. He'll have his choice of four-year colleges. But even his own coach paid Bland the ultimate compliment as the teams walked through the line, shaking hands with each other.
"You're the best football player we've seen this year," St. Bonaventure coach Todd Therrien told Bland after the game.
Bland's football talent is something the Central Valley has seen develop over the last four years. On Saturday, it all came together.
"They've got a lot of Division I prospects on that team," said Bland, pointing toward the Seraphs' sidelines. "They're disciplined, they hit hard and they play well.
"But I think we surprised them. We gave them all they wanted."
He even surprised Glines, who has seen all 5,140 of Bland's career rushing yards and all 101 of his career touchdowns.
"He showed he can run the ball and play with anybody in the nation," Glines said. "They say Darrell Scott's got 4.3 speed, and he made things happen when he got around the corner.
"But Louis made things happen when it wasn't there. He made them happen himself."
Bland made his presence known on the Raiders' first drive, bursting up the middle for a 27-yard run. He had a 48-yarder on their second drive. And on the Raiders' second touchdown drive of the first half, he accounted for 33 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run to even the score at the half.
By the end of the half, every member of the media was asking, "Who's No. 10?" He never stopped, running around, over and through tacklers all day.
"If any college coaches had any questions about Louis' ability to carry the ball, he answered them," Glines said. "If colleges don't come calling now, they're crazy.
"He definitely has a future running the football."
What has kept the colleges away so far? With a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, they say he doesn't have that "burst" of speed. At 5-foot-11, he's too short. But no coach can teach the 205-pound Bland's natural competitiveness and drive, both of which were on full display Saturday every time he touched the ball.
After the game, in the tunnel every player walked through on his way to the locker room, Bland was surrounded by Seraphs players. All were asking him where he was going to school next year. One of them, senior receiver Blayne Lewis, grabbed him in a hug, putting his ear to Bland's chest.
"He's got a lot of heart," Lewis said. "I wanted to hear it."
Bland has come a long way from that scared freshman playing in his first Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship game. Just before the Raiders' game against Le Grand in 2004, he threw up on one of the baseball fields, a victim of nerves.
But Saturday, he was cool as ice, lifting his team beyond its boundaries and nearly to a state championship.
He won't get much time to reflect. Wrestling, where he's a two-time state champion and a three-time state finalist, awaits.
"I hit the wrestling room on Monday," he said. "There isn't much time for rest. I have to get going."
On Saturday, he cemented his stature as one of the best high school football players ever to come out of Modesto.
It was nice for the rest of the state to see it, too.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.