There was nothing easy about it, but that's just how Central Catholic head coach Steve Pyne likes it when it comes to his team that "just goes to work."
"They've got 'The Franchise,' but we call our kids independent contractors," Pyne said after his team's win over Jesuit. "They just come to work every day to earn a paycheck, so I was really happy with the way we ran the football, especially in the second half."
The Rams turned a 7-7 halftime tie into a 35-14 second-half lead before holding on as a torrid Crusaders comeback fell just short, giving No. 4-seeded Central Catholic a 35-28 win over No. 9-seeded Jesuit in the second of two state semifinal football games Friday night, Nov. 26, at Hillsboro Stadium.
In a game full of great players making great plays, a relatively evenly played contest turned when the Rams took a 21-14 lead late in the third quarter, and on the ensuing kickoff the Crusaders' Matthew Rincon slipped on the 1-yard line, pinning Jesuit deep in their own territory. Three plays later, Central Catholic's Jordan King scored on a 14-yard pick-six and what was a tie game a minute earlier, was now a two-score game leaning heavily in the Rams' direction.
The moment wasn't lost on Pyne who pointed to the sequence as the type of momentum swing that can often turn a closely contested game.
"We got that fortunate mistake where he slips and falls on the one, then got the pick-six," Pyne said. "Football games boil down to three or four or five plays between good football teams, and that was a couple of them."
Jesuit head coach Ken Potter wasn't sure if that was where the game turned, but he certainly noted it as a moment that undoubtedly contributed to his team's defeat.
"We slipped on the one (the kickoff return), then Coach Potter called a bad play and dug us a hole, but we battled back even then," the coach said. "I don't know if I'd call it a turning point, but it was an unfortunate time that we fell a couple touchdowns behind."
Defense was the predominant theme of the first half, with the two teams combining for just 250 total yards.
Jesuit scored on the game's first possession, going 80 yards in three plays, capped by Michael Rincon's 72 yard touchdown catch with 10:34 remaining in the first quarter.
Central Catholic tied the game two drives later when junior tight end Riley Williams caught a ball over the middle, then ran 34 yards around and through Jesuit defenders to even the score 7-7.
It remained tied until the Rams took a seven point lead when Williams caught his second touchdown pass of the night, this one of the 14-yard variety nearly six minutes into the second half.
The Crusaders again tied it however when on a fourth and short play from midfield, Jesuit quarterback Jacob Hutchinson found Spencer McKelligon on a 38 yard flea-flicker, tying the game 14-14 before Central Catholic's Stryder Todd-Fields made the highlight play of the game.
On a fourth-and-three play from the Jesuit 32 yard line, Rams quarterback Cru Newman slightly underthrew a fade route to a fairly well covered Todd-Fields up the left sideline, but as the ball came down near the back of the defensive back's head, the Central Catholic receiver reached over the top of the defender and pinned the ball against the unsuspecting defender's helmet and controlling it as the two players fell into the endzone.
Pyne had a good look at it from the sideline, but was thinking more about a penalty than he was his player actually coming down with the ball.
"What great concentration by Stryder there on that fade route to hold on to the ball," Pyne said. "I was hoping that it was going to be pass interference. I didn't think he was going to catch it."
That led to King's pick-six, which then led to a 35-14 Rams lead when Ellis Bynum scored from nine yards out with 6:29 remaining. But Jesuit responded, getting a 45 yard touchdown run from Noah Staley just over a minute later, then â€“ after a successful onside kick recovery â€“ pulled within 35-28 when Tyree Blake caught a 49 yard pass from Hutchinson with 4:30 left on the clock.
"They never quit, and that's what the motto of this team has been all year," Potter said. "We just kept getting better all the time, and when things weren't going well for us, we didn't do anything but just work harder."
And that hard work paid off when Jesuit turned Central Catholic over on downs on the Crusaders' 12 yard line with 2:22 left. But as the Jesuit fans and their sideline buzzed with the ball and a chance to tie or take the lead in the game's final minutes, King put an end to the suspense by intercepting Hutchinson two plays later, putting the game on ice and sending the Rams to next week's state final.
Ultimately, Potter was proud of his kids for their effort on the night and over the course of the season, but at the same time had a hard time reconciling what was still a tough end to an otherwise great year.
"When time ran out, we were on the wrong end of the score, but I couldn't be more proud of the kids for their effort and how hard they worked," the Jesuit coach said. "I'm exceptionally proud and I'll reminisce and look back on it later, but right now is a really hard time to be anything but sad for the fact that we don't get to play another game."
Jesuit's Michael Rincon, who accounted for 151 total yards in the game, was too disappointed, and wasn't ready for an outcome he equally didn't expect.
"They made a few big plays, and that was the difference," Rincon said. "I thought we were underrated coming in, but I thought we could beat them and prove everyone wrong. But we were a score short."
Pyne, quite obviously was in a better mood, but at the same time knows his team has one more game to win against Tualatin in next week's state final â€“ and it won't be easy.
"They look good, what little I've seen of them, and we've got our work cut out for us," the Central Catholic coach said. "They're on a mission and have been since day-one. They expected to be here and I think we expected to be here as well, so I hope it's a great high school football game."
Bynum led Central Catholic with 99 yards and a touchdown rushing on 19 carries, while Newman carried 17 times for 94 yards, in addition to completing 14-of-26 passing for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
Williams finished with five catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
Hutchinson finished 11-for-22 for 314 yards and four touchdowns, while McKelligan, Rincon, Staley and Blake all had touchdown catches for the Crusaders.
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