Fresno State recruit Justin Rice leads the way with 288 yards rushing and three TDs in 42-37 triumph, but needed to make a play on defense for the Raiders to stave off a furious rally by the gritty Mustangs. Watch for both teams in upcoming CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
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In a classic game of shifting momentum, Central Catholic of Modesto withstood two of those shifts to hold on for a 43-37 victory Friday night over Oakdale.
David Patton Field at Central Catholic was fllled early and parking spaces were scarce for the matchup between two 9-0 teams that decided the Valley Oak League title and the No. 1 seed for the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
Section seedings in all divisions were expected to be done on Saturday afternoon, but Friday was about local bragging rights. The winner also would be considered the top team overall from the southern part of the SJS and is knocking on the door for the next State Top 25 overall rankings.
“Yes, it is a big deal to win the VOL,” said Central Catholic head coach Roger Canepa, whse team last year finished in a tie for third in that league before going on to win a third straight CIF Division IV state title. “We punched them in the first half and they punched us at the start of the second half. It was two great teams and we won.”
Central Catholic raced to a 21-0 lead and seemed poised run away from the Mustangs, perhaps even a running clock-style game. Oakdale finally got going late in the second quarter, then scored twice to start the second half to cut the lead to 28-23.
After that, however, the Raiders answered and appeared to have the game well in hand at 42-23 with 9:22 left on a 12-yard TD run by Kekupa’a Freehauf.
But Oakdale still wasn’t through. After Adam Olsen threw a 9-yard TD pass to Logan Hall, the Mustangs recovered a fumble to set up another TD pass, this one 25 yards from Olsen to Gregory Hickman with 3:33 left that suddenly brought the score to 43-37.
Mustangs’ head coach Trent Merzon then decided to try an onside kick partly because the defense had trouble stopping the Central Catholic run game all night long. The ploy worked as his team recovered and then moved in place to perhaps steal a win over the Raiders.
Olsen got the offense within striking distance to the 18-yard line, but after an illegal procedure penalty, two incomplete passes and a stuffed run, a fourth down pass with 1:50 seconds left was knocked away by Central’s Justin Rice.
It was fitting that Rice had the biggest play on defense because he was the star on offense, beginning with a 69-yard TD on just his second carry of the game. He ended with 30 carries for 288 yards.
“When I do get in there on defense, I can’t let my teammates down,” Rice said. “Last year was tough (Oakdale won 42-28) and this was one game we wanted back.”
Raiders’ QB Hunter Petlansky added 129 yards and one TD through the air and rushed seven times for 46 yards. Freehauf also had a one-yard TD plunge in addition to the 12-yarder.
Since Oakdale still had three timeouts left after Rice’s defensive play, Petlansky needed to get first down to ice the win, which he did by the length of the ball on a third-and-six scramble with 56 seconds remaining.
Brad Aquino also had a strong outing for Oakdale as he rushed for 158 yards on 15 carries, including a 42-yard TD that began the scoring in the second half.
Many after the game were talking about a rematch in the section playoffs, but with other unbeaten teams in the SJS D3 mix (including Patterson and perhaps Placer of Auburn) the possibility of Oakdale not getting a 2 or 3 seed also was discussed. That would mean a rematch might take place in the semifinals and not the final.
“The section does what it wants in moving our school,” Canepa said when asked about being moved up to D3 this year. “But I just can’t worry about any of that. We’ll go where they tell us to go and we’ll be ready. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t over-celebrate this win and focus in on the next game.”