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CV, CHS applaud CC's effort
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Central Valley and Ceres High varsity football players and coaches rooted from afar as Central Catholic captured the Division IV CIF State Championship with a 66-7 win over Santa Fe Christian on Dec. 14 in Carson.

"Ultimately, that's where we want to be," Hawks head coach Jason McCloskey said.

Central Valley and Ceres High competed against Central Catholic in Western Athletic Conference play during the regular season.

"I want every team in the WAC to be successful," McCloskey said. "It makes the whole league look better. I give those guys a lot of credit. They're very good at executing their plays."

Central Valley lost 38-6 to Central Catholic on Oct. 26 in Modesto.

"What set Central Catholic apart from everyone else was their offensive and defensive lines," McCloskey said. "They were physical and very tough to play against. I don't think one player made that team."

The Hawks managed to gain just five first downs and 113 yards on offense against the Raiders.

Central Valley star running back Ja'Quan Gardner totaled 82 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries.

Central Catholic's Rey Vega ran for 45 yards and two scores on eight carries.

Raider teammate Ray Lomas carried the ball 13 times for 64 yards and one TD.

The Hawks trailed 17-0 at halftime.

"We just made mistakes early," McCloskey said. "We gave them a short field three times because of two turnovers and a botched punt. We could have executed better on offense. That was our downfall all year."

Central Valley veteran quarterback Abraham Navarro played for a just a little over a half versus Central Catholic before being benched. Navarro finished 0-for-4 with two interceptions.

"For the most part, we stopped them," said Navarro, who plans to try out for kicker and punter at Modesto Junior College this fall. "Our offense couldn't do jack. Their defense is really good. They got a good pass rush. They have defensive backs that can play too. That's probably one of the hardest-hitting teams I've played ever. They didn't have too many weaknesses."

Central Catholic crushed Ceres High 69-7 on Sept. 28 at Bulldog Stadium.

The Raiders raced to a 56-7 lead in the opening half.

The Bulldogs mustered just 178 yards of total offense and committed two turnovers during the game.

Ceres High's defense yielded 426 yards, including 296 rushing and 130 passing.

Lomas rumbled for 131 yards and four touchdowns.

Ceres High senior leader Caden Johnson was limited to 59 yards on four catches.

"It was way too early in the season to tell if they were state-bowl material," said Johnson, a standout receiver drawing interest from Humboldt State and Southern Oregon. "They proved me wrong. I'm happy for them. They're from our league."

The Central Catholic-Santa Fe Christian state championship game was televised on Time Warner Cable 700.

Vega, a transfer from Grace Davis who had to sit out the first six games of the season to satisfy a CIF rule, piled up 202 yards and four touchdowns on just six attempts.

Lomas carved up Santa Fe's defense for 183 yards and three scores on 16 carries.

"Central Catholic had tougher games in the WAC," McCloskey said.

"It was pretty cool watching the game on TV," Navarro said. "I'm pretty sure they could have scored 100 points. It was that bad. The other team had no answers. Most high-school teams only have one star running back. Central Catholic had the luxury of having two that could run for over 1,000 yards."

"It's crazy to think one of the teams we played was on TV," Johnson said. "I heard updates from my friends and read about it. The fact that they won, I'm not surprised. They have a really good team."

Central Catholic won State, NorCal, Section and WAC titles on its way to compiling a 14-2 record.

Four of the WAC's seven teams advanced to the postseason, excluding Central Valley (5-5), Ceres High (2-8) and Livingston (4-6).

Several of the Raiders' players have ties to Ceres, including senior receiver/defensive back Nathan Loya, junior lineman Spencer Stark and sophomore running back/defensive end Miguel Hernandez.

Loya and Hernandez played for the Ceres Cowboys and Ceres Seahawks, respectively, at the youth level.

Connie Stark, Spencer's mother, is principal of Sinclear Elementary School. His father John, a kindergarten teacher at Whitmore Charter School, passed away unexpectedly in November.

"They knew they were the best team out there and proved it," Navarro said. "They've had a storied program for many years. You're expected to win there."

Added McCloskey: "Having Vega helped, but I didn't see anybody shutting down Lomas."

Central Valley, which fielded its first-ever varsity football team in 2006, has never qualified for the playoffs or posted a winning season.

The Hawks (5-5) won four of their first five games and appeared to be headed toward their first-ever postseason appearance in 2012. Central Valley closed out the year with a 1-4 finish.

Ceres High last participated in the playoffs and compiled a non-losing record in 2004.

The Bulldogs went 14-66 from 2005-12.

"Ceres in general produces a lot of great football talent," McCloskey said. "We want to exploit it and showcase it. We got to get stronger. We have to raise our football IQ. We have to play with that we-before-me mentality."

Added Johnson: "We take football serious. But we have to take it a step up like Central Catholic."