High School Football

Central Catholic dethrones Oakdale, wins Sac-Joaquin Section Division III crown

Video: Central Catholic Coach, Players React To Big Win

Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa, quarterback Hunter Petlansky and running back Justin Rice are all smiles after the Raiders defeated Oakdale 21-7 on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Stockton, Calif. (Jim Silva/jsilva@modbee.com)
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Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa, quarterback Hunter Petlansky and running back Justin Rice are all smiles after the Raiders defeated Oakdale 21-7 on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Stockton, Calif. (Jim Silva/jsilva@modbee.com)

Hunter Petlansky pushed through the crowd with the game ball tucked under his arm and yet another championship tucked under his belt.

The Central Catholic quarterback has been instrumental in turning the small parochial school into a state power, but the Raiders have leaned on the run as they’ve navigated the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III bracket.

On Friday, Petlansky proved the pass still has purpose.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior swung the game with a gusty fourth-down completion in the third quarter and then scored the go-ahead touchdown as the top-seeded Raiders celebrated a 21-7 victory over No. 2 Oakdale.

“You have to make big plays to help your team get through,” Petlansky said. “That was my goal tonight.

“(The pass) is something we’ve been able to do, but it’s not really our style. We’re a run-first kind of team, but we had to exhaust all of our options tonight.”

Offensively, we were in a funk. We drove the ball a little bit, but if we don’t throw, we’re in trouble.

Roger Canepa, Central Catholic coach

The Raiders (14-0) now await their CIF Northern California bowl assignment, which will be announced Sunday. Central Catholic is projected to face Marin Catholic in the Open Division Small game, according to Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis, a leading voice in the bowl selection process over the years.

“We get to keep moving on. It just depends who they put us up against,” Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa said. “We have a good football team, but you never know what the (state) is going to do.”

Oakdale finished 12-2 without a title of any sort, a rarity for a program that has won at least a share of the VOL crown in 10 of the last 14 years.

The Mustangs were pushed to the brink, both physically and emotionally, by an exhaustive 14-game schedule, and it showed in their second game with the Raiders in five weeks. Oakdale went scoreless on two trips inside the red zone, missed a 37-yard field goal and struggled to move the ball in the fourth quarter with the game hanging in the balance.

As head coach Trent Merzon presided over his final postgame huddle, many of his players were reduced to tears. The dam, so sturdy and strong for months, finally broke.

“It’s hard. That’s football. That’s this time of the year. One team celebrates at one end of the field, and the other team cries at the other,” Merzon said. “We’ve been here before. We’ve been at both ends, and it’s tough.

“The tears … the tears are because it’s over. A phase of their life is over. For some of these guys, they know they’ll never play again. They know we won’t see each other every day. It’s hard.”

One week after completing just one pass with an interception in a 48-14 win over Placer, Petlansky proved to be the Raiders’ ultimate weapon. He was 8-of-11 for 120 yards and an interception. He also had 39 yards on nine carries.

His numbers weren’t gaudy, but his timing was impeccable. He was 4-of-5 for 66 yards on the eventual game-winning drive in the third quarter, including a 23-yard strike to younger brother Cole Petlansky on fourth-and-8 from the Oakdale 28.

“Offensively, we were in a funk,” Canepa said. “We drove the ball a little bit, but if we don’t throw, we’re in trouble.”

That’s football. That’s this time of the year. One team celebrates at one end of the field, and the other team cries at the other.

Trent Merzon, Oakdale coach

Petlansky did more than pitch it around Alex G. Spanos Stadium. The Columbia University commit capped the third-quarter drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, pushing the pile to make it 14-7 with 26.4 ticks left.

The drive was quintessential Petlansky, whose legs and leadership have been just as valuable to the Raiders’ run of success as his arm.

Central Catholic marched 80 yards on 12 plays following a missed field goal by Oakdale’s Lane Trapp, whose 37-yard attempt sailed wide left and then disappeared into the trees beyond the east end zone.

With it went the momentum.

Set up at its own 20, Central Catholic moved the ball down field in chunks. After Justin Rice carried three times to start the drive, the Raiders turned to Petlansky.

He had three completions for 43 yards to Daron Bland (four catches, 54 yards), including a 22-yard strike into near-perfect coverage.

Two plays later, Petlansky turned the game with a toss he’s rehearsed in the back yard with his brother for years.

Flushed out of the pocket, Petlansky rolled to his left and then threw back to the middle of the field to Cole, who made his first start of the season after tearing his ACL in the offseason.

“I started scrambling, looking for a play, and Cole made a nice move,” the older Petlansky said. “It was nice having him back out there. He’s a playmaker, for sure.”

On a night dominated by the defenses, the Valley Oak League’s top ground attacks quietly celebrated milestones.

Rice eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season with 165 yards on 29 carries.

The Fresno State-bound running scored standing up from the 2-yard line to make it 7-0 with 1:04 left in the first quarter.

He later sealed the win with a 22-yard burst up the right sideline with 2:16 left in the game, splitting a pair of tacklers on his way. The run was his longest of the night. Rice entered the game averaging nearly 12 yards per carry, but only had four carries of 10 or more yards against the Mustangs.

He credited Petlansky’s work in the third quarter for opening running lanes in the fourth.

“They were shutting down the run,” Rice said. “In the second half, we said we would have to hit a lot of play-action passes to open up the run game. We hit those key passes on third-and-long and it just opened up run game in the end.”

Oakdale fullback Brad Aquino set the program’s single-season rushing mark with 78 yards on 22 carries. He finished with 1,874 yards and 37 touchdowns, also a record.

The Mustangs had been averaging 46 points per game.

Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa was winless in same-season rematches before Friday’s 21-7 victory over Oakdale. He was 0-6 in a career that has spanned two decades.

On Friday, Oakdale was 0 for 2 in the red zone with fewer than 200 yards of total offense. Running backs Austin Burke and Bobby DePuy combined for 80 yards, while Adam Olsen was just 2-of-9 for 29 yards with an interception.

“We didn’t have any juice,” Merzon said.

Olsen also had 39 yards on seven carries when he needed 40.

Trailing 14-7 with 3:24 left, Merzon elected to keep his offense on the field for a fourth-and-6 from the Mustangs’ 25.

“I’d rather end it with the sword in our hand,” he said.

Olsen was nearly tackled for a loss on the play but avoided the rush. He was stopped at the 30, about two feet short of the first down. Central Catholic took over, sealing their fourth consecutive section championship, 19th overall, and first as a D-III competitor since 2001.

“I wasn’t surprised. I probably would have done the same thing,” Canepa said. “You play to win the game.”

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980

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