Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa questioned his decisions to go for several two-point conversion attempts on Friday.
“I was standing there thinking after 34 years of coaching, did I do the right thing,” Canepa said.
The Raiders went 0 for 3 on two-point conversion attempts against Inderkum in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinals, and after the Tigers scored with 1:35 to cut Central Catholic’s lead to one, Canepa said his decision could have been costly after Inderkum decided to go for two to take the lead.
In the end, the Tigers (11-1) were unable to convert after an incomplete pass in the end zone, and the Raiders escaped with a 31-30 victory.
“The coaches (before the two-point attempt) told us to be physical,” senior defensive back Adrian Cuevas said. “They told us if you want it (a win), you have to go get it and that’s what it came down to, who wanted it more.”
Central Catholic recovered the onside kick and advanced to the title game where it will face Del Oro (11-1), which advanced after Jesuit had to forfeit due to playing an ineligible player in the previous two rounds.
Canepa said his team overcame a lot to reach the title game.
“These were tough conditions (rain for most of the game and a slippery field),” Canepa said. “That’s an 11-0 team we just beat. We live to fight another day.”
The “fight” was really one-sided in the first half as the Tigers led 24-12 after the first 24 minutes. Tigers senior running back Raymond Brown scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter after Inderkum started the drive on its own 4. Junior running back Aaron Espero had a 97-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
To make matters worse for the Raiders, juniors Minaya Olivo and Sithri Price were both knocked out of the game in the first half.
But, with rain pouring down and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” blaring through the stadium speakers, the Raiders came out energized after Canepa told his team in the locker room “we got this.”
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, senior running back Dawaiian McNeely ran 80 yards up the middle untouched into the end zone to cut the Tigers’ lead to five.
After Inderkum was forced to punt, senior running back Kyle Jacklich ran 27 yards to the end zone on a fourth-and-2 and — just like that — the Raiders were back in front as they took a 25-24 lead with 7:56 left in the third.
“It was just time to go,” Jacklich said. “As seniors, you are down 12 points and we looked around to each other and said, ‘guys this is not going to be the last time we walk off this field.’ ’’
Canepa said his team “ran hard” in the second half and both Jacklich and McNeely fought for the extra yards and broke tackles.
Central Catholic led 25-24 after three quarters and the Tigers stopped McNeely on a third down run early in the fourth but an Inderkum personal foul penalty extended the drive and Jacklich scored on a 4-yard run on the next play.
The Raiders led 31-24 until Tigers junior quarterback JJ Ray connected with junior Javi Daniels for 27 yards and the score late in the fourth.
Cuevas saw the play the Tigers were going to run for their two-point conversion all week during practice and made a play on the ball to force an incompletion.
“I kept on getting beat in that play every single time and when the receiver lined up in slot, I said this isn’t going to happen again and it went in our favor,” Cuevas said.
Despite the win, Canepa said his team has a lot to improve on before next week’s championship game.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game,” he said. “It was a lot of grinding yard for yard. We are ready to go for next week and excited to get back to work.”