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Central Valley puts scare into mighty Central Catholic, Manteca
Hawks challenge Raiders, Buffaloes before fading late
Central Valley senior quarterback Kendel Johnson totaled 613 yards and seven touchdowns against the Buffaloes and Raiders. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Central Valley High School's varsity football team competed with and lost to two of the top programs in California.

Central Catholic (15-1) won State, NorCal and Sac-Joaquin Section titles.

Manteca High (13-2) captured the Division-III section crown.

"We're the last team to give both of those teams a run," Central Valley head coach Jason McCloskey said. "It's pretty cool. I'm happy for both of them."

Central Valley compiled an 0-2 record against Manteca in 2013.

The Buffaloes edged the 15th-seeded Hawks 69-55 in the opening round of the playoffs on Nov. 15 in Manteca.

Central Valley lost to Manteca despite piling up 669 yards of total offense.

Ja'Quan Gardner gained 378 yards and scored four touchdowns on 35 carries. He also tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Christian Romo.

Quarterback Kendel Johnson rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries.

Down by seven points late in the fourth quarter, the Hawks' potential game-tying drive ended with a turnover in Buffalo territory.

Chase McKee's 69-yard fumble return touchdown propelled Manteca past Central Valley.

"We improved throughout the season and it showed in the game," Gardner said. "I keep thinking about the what-ifs. We had a good shot at beating them. I'm proud of the way we played."

Added McCloskey: "Our offense was moving the ball really well. They didn't have an answer for us. Manteca's offensive line is really good. Their defense is underrated even though we put up a bunch of points against them. I give them a lot of credit. They're the best team we've played. I'd really like to see them play Central Catholic."

The Buffaloes topped the Hawks 47-20 during the regular season in Ceres on Aug 30.

Gardner totaled 117 yards and one TD on 15 carries.

Johnson passed for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

He rushed for 75 yards on 12 carries.

Manteca's other playoff victories came against Sacramento (49-6), Inderkum (45-36) and Casa Roble (49-13).

"We do feel like if we would have gotten by Manteca, it would have given us a huge boost of confidence," McCloskey said. "They coasted after beating us. They didn't get challenged at all."

Central Valley challenged Central Catholic in Western Athletic Conference play before suffering a 43-34 loss at Bulldog Stadium on Oct. 25.

The outcome wasn't settled until midway through the fourth quarter.

Donovin Townsend's 15-yard TD pass to a wide-open Matthew Teixeira and subsequent 2-point conversion run gave Central Catholic a nine-point lead at the 5:55 mark of the final period.

The Raiders thwarted Central Valley's comeback attempt with an interception. Johnson, who scrambled to his left to avoid a sack before heaving a hail-mary pass, was picked off by Jared Rice at Central Catholic's 21-yard line.

The Raiders picked up three first downs and ran the final 4 minutes, 46 seconds off the clock.

Gardner impressed everyone in attendance with a 330-yard, three-touchdown performance.

Johnson ran for 102 yards and one TD on 14 attempts. He completed 3 of 5 passes for 57 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Kendel also lost a fumble.

"They impose their will on you," McCloskey said. "They play with a lot of confidence. They have some of the best players in the area."

Central Catholic also beat Bakersfield Christian (36-23), McClymonds (17-14), Hilmar (24-10), Ripon (38-7), Colfax (57-27) and Marysville (75-0) during postseason play.

"We have nothing to be ashamed of," said Gardner, who totaled 825 yards and eight touchdowns on the grounds versus Manteca and Central Catholic. "We hung in there with two of the top teams in the section. It shows how good we are. I'd pay money to see Manteca and Central Catholic play. It would be a great game. Both of their offensive lines are huge and they play well as a team."

"Having played both teams, I think Manteca would kick the snot out of Central Catholic," McCloskey said. "That's my opinion. Central Catholic doesn't have the depth that Manteca has."

Central Valley accomplished several firsts this year. The Hawks (6-5) qualified for the playoffs and compiled a winning record.

"We got a special group of guys," said McCloskey, Central Valley's second-year leader.