Central Catholic’s Dauson Booker stood near the west end zone at David Patton Field, a smile affixed to his face.
The senior running back was trying to will away the tears that had more to do with the curtain coming down on his high school football career than the Raiders’ 23-12, season-ending loss to Del Oro (Loomis) in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs Friday night.
“As a senior, there’s a lot of lasts,” said Booker, who’s drawing interest from Sacramento State, among other schools. “There’s a lot of firsts; there’s a lot of lasts. And those lasts will never be forgotten. And they hurt sometimes. Like, this hurts, but I’m smiling because I loved it. This whole season, I loved it.”
Booker and the Raiders were smiling in the first half when they took a 6-0 lead into the break. The lone score of the first half was a 2-yard dash around the right end by Booker, who carried the ball 22 times for 133 yards before intermission.
The second half started with Del Oro’s Johnny Guzman returning the kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. With the point-after, the Golden Eagles led 7-6.
Booker put Central back on top with a 28-yard up the visitor’s sideline. Booker was stopped short on the two-point conversion attempt and the Raiders led 12-7.
In the second half, other than a 28-yard run for a TD, Booker carried the ball just six other times – not counting the conversion attempt – for minus-2, 1, 1, 3, 2 and 2 yards.
“I think in the second half, they figured something out,” said Dauson.
The Golden Eagles played with an end, a linebacker and a safety over the tight end much of the time, daring Central Catholic to find another way to beat them.
“We thought if we could eliminate his big plays, we’d be in a good position to be successful,” said first-year Del Oro coach Jeff Walters, back from a one-game suspension after a post-game dust-up with an official following his team’s 16-14 win over Lincoln on Nov. 9.
Walters was not with the program two years ago when the Golden Eagles squeaked into the playoffs with a 4-6 record and ran the table to win a state championship. But as a Del Oro alumni, he’s familiar with the 2015 season and said this team has a similar feel.
“Very much so,” said Walters. “We’re a very young team and we’re starting to figure some things out.”
After falling behind 12-7, Del Oro was marching on its ensuing possession, advancing the ball to the Raiders’ 34. But Justin Traina recovered a Daunte Pericin fumble on the CC 40-yard line and it appeared as though the momentum had shifted.
Central Catholic, thanks to a 39-yard completion from Theo Azevedo to D’Angelo Bellamy, eventually moved inside Del Oro’s 30. Facing fourth-and-6 from the Golden Eagles’ 29, Central Catholic went for it, but Azevedo was intercepted on the 3 – though, it was as good as a punt.
On the next play, Del Oro quarterback Carson Jarratt threw a perfect strike to Guzman, running a go route up the visitor’s sideline and Guzman outraced the defense to the end zone for a 13-12 lead. Del Oro’s failed on its try for a two-point conversion.
Both teams went three-and-out on their next possessions, but Del Oro’s punt pushed Central back to its own 17.
“I don’t know if we played as bad as you’d think,” said Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa, who suffered his first playoff loss at David Patton Field, where the Raiders are now 64-6 under Canepa all-time. “We made plays, but we couldn’t make the big play.”
On the fourth play of the drive, a first down, Azevedo dropped back to pass and was pressured. He rolled to his right and, when he realized he had nowhere to go, he tried to throw the ball away to avoid a huge sack. But instead of finding grass, the ball found Pericin, who batted the ball to himself for the interception.
“I missed a sack at first and ended up on the wrong side of the field,” said Pericin, a junior defensive back who also serves as the team’s designated running quarterback. “But then he rolled to his right and I was just in the right place at the right time.”
The Golden Eagles capitalized when Brice Edwards busted in from the 4 to make it 20-12 after Whalley’s extra point.
Whalley added a 46-yard field goal with 3:52 to play that pretty much sealed it. Two weeks ago, Whalley hit a 52-yarder to beat Lincoln.
“I felt pretty good and it was the same kick as the 52-yarder,” said Whalley. “I just brought myself back to that moment and did the same thing.
“I like the big kicks. They’re fun.”
The Golden Eagles (8-5), winners of the last two D-II championships, will try to make it three in a row against Granite Bay – a 9-7 winner over Del Campo – on Dec. 2 at Sac State.
Canepa was uncharacteristically emotional following the loss.
“I just think these guys played hard all year for me,” said Canepa. “This was a team that was supposed to get third in the league and had some big wins.”