There's a reason the cliche is "defense wins championships."
Central Catholic High football felt that going into halftime of the Class 6A state title game against Tualatin on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 4, at Hillsboro Stadium.
Despite only one offensive touchdown, the Rams led at the break 21-14 thanks to two fumble-return touchdowns.
From there, the Rams' offense found its footing while the defense played even stronger to win Central Catholic's second consecutive state title, and sixth in program history, 44-14 over the Timberwolves.
"It feels great. You look behind you and everyone's jumping, this is an awesome feeling," Rams tight end Riley Williams said. "Straight hard work. We came into practice way back, we did our camps and stuff putting in work and building chemistry. The outcome is right here."
On the game's opening drive, Tualatin moved the ball the first couple plays before a bad snap pushed the Timberwolves back.
On the next play, after another bad snap, the Timberwolves didn't fall on it. Instead, Rams defensive end and Oregon commit Emar'rion Winston picked it up and rumbled in for a 60-yard touchdown.
Later, with the Rams up 14-7 following an offensive touchdown, Timmy Mitchell grabbed a loose ball after a Tualatin reception and took it to the house from 25 yards out to give Central Catholic a 21-7 lead with 1:07 left in the first half.
Tualatin would score quickly to make it 21-14 at the break, but the defense kept the Rams in it when the offense stalled its first three times with the ball.
"Our mindset defensively is different than most teams," Winston said. "Some teams say, 'Hey, let's get a stop, let's get off the field.' Me and my teammates say, 'Let's get back on the field,' in the sense of let's score.
"Let's be playmakers and not make plays. Instead of getting a knock-down, let's get an interception. Instead of getting a fumble recovery, let's get a fumble recovery touchdown. Make those big plays instead of just putting it in the offense's hands."
The defense didn't have those bigger plays in the second half, but they didn't need them as they held Tualatin scoreless in the second half.
A high-powered Timberwolves offense that starts with running back Malik Ross never quite found that footing. Ross still finished with 175 yards on 25 carries with one score, but many of those yards came on a couple chunk plays in the first half.
Passing-wise, Jackson Jones and Cole Prusia have been a deadly connection all season. Saturday afternoon, the Rams made the connection disappear, with Prusia only hauling in two catches for 15 yards while Jones went 16 for 36 for 101 yards with one TD pass and one pick.
"The defense stemmed the tide basically," Rams coach Steve Pyne said. "We were not functioning well in the first half offensively and they gave us some breathing room. We made some adjustments at halftime, we were able to run the football a little bit better and kind of separated ourselves in the third quarter."
The third quarter iced it for the Rams as running back Ellis Bynum found the end zone quickly on a 24-yard TD run. Bynum finished with 85 yards rushing on 13 carries and two touchdowns.
Then Riley Williams went to work.
A top national recruit at the tight end spot, Williams went on a 50-yard catch and run that helped set up a 49-yard field goal from Asher Wajskol.
On the first play of the Rams' next possession, Williams hauled in a pass over the middle and took it for a 53-yard touchdown and put the Rams up 37-14 with 3:29 left in the third frame.
Williams finished with four catches for 140 yards and the one score. Quarterback Cru Newman went 12 for 24 for 243 yards with one TD pass and one interception.
"When the lights are the brightest, he lights up," Pyne said of Williams. "Man, does he make some plays, too. Unbelievable."
On top of winning state, the Rams finished the season a perfect 15-0 and outscored opponents 673-181, complete domination from the team that was picked No. 1 in the preseason coaches' poll.
The state title marks the Rams' fourth during Pyne's eight seasons at the helm, a fact the head coach recognizes as something special.
"I'm so proud of our players, our coaches, our community, our whole school," Pyne said. "Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think we'd win one, let alone four. It's a pretty good feeling."
The feeling is mutual for Winston, who has now been a part of two of them after being a part of the 2019 state title run.
Winston said he felt closer to this 2021 squad, and at the end of it all, those connections are what matter most to the Rams senior.
"It was a blink-of-an-eye season … it was not slow at all," Winston said of the year. "It was amazing to build connections and build life-long friends from this team and that's the best part. I know I'll always talk to these guys and I'll always be able to reach out to them if I need anything.
"That was the best part. Not the wins, not the state championship, just knowing that I got people who got my back and I got theirs."
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