High School Football

Central Catholic defense made big plays when most needed

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)

All season long, Central Catholic High School’s defense has taken a back seat to its point-a-minute offense.

Friday night, the Raiders ‘D’ finally rode shotgun.

Time and again, Central Catholic came up with defensive gems during its 21-7 victory over Oakdale in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship.

And this wasn’t your garden-variety Oakdale offense, either. It was the most prolific offense in school history, one that entered the game averaging 46 points per contest.

Against the Raiders, however, the Mustangs totaled a season-low seven points and 187 yards of total offense.

“We pride ourselves on our defense,” said Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa, whose team secured the school’s 19th blue banner in 21 trips to the final. “It’s tough to beat a team twice. People don’t get it.”

Central Catholic defeated Oakdale 42-37 on Nov. 6 when both entered with 9-0 records and the Valley Oak League title on the line.

That game, which turned into a shootout, was every bit as exciting as Friday’s final, save for one little detail: The loser of this game would be done for the season.

“The first time we played them, our defense fell apart,” said senior linebacker Austin Escobar, whose team spit up most of a 21-0 lead in the first encounter. “The DBs fell apart, the linebackers fell apart and the linemen fell apart.”

There would be no falling apart in the rematch.

Central Catholic couldn’t do much with its first possession, turning over the ball on downs when quarterback Hunter Petlansky failed to hit a wide-open Montell Bland over the middle. The Mustangs took over on their 41 and marched to Central’s 28. Quarterback Adam Olsen dropped back to pass, looking for a target coming out of the backfield, when Escobar jumped the route and picked off the pass.

“They run boot action, but they have a back stay in and block,” Central defensive coordinator Billy Hylla said. “Then, (the back) leaks out down the sideline.

“Austin keyed it and made the play.”

The Raiders rode that momentum swing to the end zone for the first score.

Oakdale was poised to counter on its next possession, penetrating Central Catholic’s red zone. But facing fourth and six from the 7, the Mustangs rolled the dice and went for broke.

Olsen again dropped back but was hauled down behind the line of scrimmage by Javier Canela and Austin Cook, preserving the Raiders’ lead.

“Every time we’ve played them, it’s been a game of momentum swings,” Hylla said. “We were able to withstand the times when the momentum swung back in their favor.”

At the start of the third quarter, with the score tied 7-7, the Mustangs snatched the momentum again with a 12-play drive that ate up nearly six minutes and took them to Central’s 15. A false start infraction backed them up five yards, bringing up third and 10. Again, Olsen dropped back and had his tight end open briefly in the end zone. But safety Josh Frowein closed on the ball, dived and swatted away the pass at the last second.

Oakdale settled for a field-goal attempt, but the 37-yarder was wide left.

“We thought we were going to come out, score and put it away,” Olsen said. “But it didn’t happen. It’s tough.”

Central Catholic countered with its own 12-play drive, taking a 14-7 lead with less than 30 seconds to play in the third quarter.

With both teams pounding on one another, the fourth quarter flew by. Soon, Oakdale faced fourth and six from its 25 with 3:24 to play. Armed with three timeouts, coach Trent Merzon elected to go for it.

“You can’t punt the ball there; you can’t give the ball to Justin Rice again,” Merzon said, referring to the Raiders’ tailback who went over the 2,000-yard mark Friday for the second consecutive season, a first in Stanislaus District history. “There’s a chance of not seeing the ball again. If you’re going to go out, go out swinging.”

Once more, Olsen dropped backed and was forced to his left. When he couldn’t get around the end, he cut back toward the middle, where he was met by a host of Raiders.

The officials spotted the ball with the tail touching the 30-yard line. Merzon, squatting like a catcher and squinting toward midfield to conduct his own measurement, turned to his coaches and shook his head.

The Mustangs were 2 feet short, and the Central Catholic sideline erupted. About a minute and a half later, Rice put the game on ice with a 22-yard TD run, his longest of the night.

Oakdale came up with big plays on defense, too, holding the Raiders to 350 total yards. Central Catholic entered the game averaging 443 yards.

With Central just yards away from paydirt, defensive back Zach Thomas intercepted a pass as time ran out in the first half, and the Mustangs stopped Hunter Petlansky’s sneak attempt on fourth and three with 4:17 to play.

“This was probably our best defensive performance all year,” said Merzon, whose team held Central to 27 points below its average. “But, hey, 12-2 is a great year, with both losses coming to those guys.

“Amazing game.”

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