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Paws v. Claws
Ceres Highs, Central Valleys varsity football teams will battle Friday night at 7
Central Valleys JaQuan Gardner, pictured left, and Ceres Highs Dylan Canatsy will play key roles during Fridays Paws vs. Claws crosstown classic football game. The contest will be staged at Bulldog Stadium. - photo by DALE BUTLER/Courier file photo

Central Valley High School's varsity football team is determined to make history.

Ceres High can play spoiler.

The Hawks (5-4, 2-3) will be playoff eligible for the first time in their eight-year history with a win over the Bulldogs (2-7, 1-4) this week.

"With 44 opponents' wins, Central Valley is in fairly decent shape," said Will DeBoard, director of communications for CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. "I can't tell you for sure yes or no, because you never know what else might happen, but I'd say chances are pretty good they would make the playoffs at 6-4."

The eighth annual Paws vs. Claws crosstown classic game will be staged at Bulldog Stadium Friday night with kickoff slated for 7.

"We're going to play relaxed," Ceres High junior quarterback Brad Bussard said. "The pressure is on them. They have to win. We really want to ruin it for them. This is our playoff game in a way."

The Hawks have won their last six meetings versus the Bulldogs by a combined score of 243-111.

The Ceres Classic perpetual trophy has been a fixture at Central Valley since 2007.

The Hawks will try to best the Bulldogs for the seventh consecutive season.

Central Valley overwhelmed Ceres High 40-13 in front of a packed crowd last season.

The Hawks rolled up a season-high 489 yards of total offense--425 rushing on 41 attempts.

Ja'Quan Gardner gained 215 yards and scored three touchdowns on 13 carries. He also caught a 38-yard TD pass from senior Abraham Navarro.

Angelo Bermudez carried the ball seven times for 101 yards.

"We have mutual respect for each other," Central Valley second-year leader Jason McCloskey said. "You don't have to hype the game up as a coach. It means a lot to the kids and town. They want that trophy. It's going to be a well-coached, competitive game. Anything can happen."

Central Valley upset Los Banos 35-7 last week to keep its playoff hopes alive.

"They're hot right now," Bussard said. "They have a lot of talented players. We can beat them. That would be a big accomplishment. It would give us a lot of confidence going into next year."

The Bulldogs will have their hands full trying to slow down Gardner.

He's totaled 522 yards on the ground and 11 touchdowns in back-to-back victories against Ceres High.

Ja'Quan has rushed for 1,768 yards and 19 touchdowns this year.

He broke the Stanislaus District's career rushing record last week. Gardner's accumulated 5,315 yards in 29 games.

"It's going to be a close game as long as we stop Ja'Quan," Bussard said. "We watched him in person when Central Valley played Central Catholic. He's so fast. He's having a great year."

"Our offensive line has improved so much this year," McCloskey said. "They'll be the key to our success. Everyone knows we're going to run the ball."

Bussard will direct an offense that averages 287.6 yards passing per contest.

Brad's totaled 2,547 yards, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in nine games.

Dylan Canatsy, Ceres High's top receiver, has 71 catches, 1,049 yards and 11 TDs.

Bulldog tight end Harman Chung has 45 receptions, 670 yards and seven touchdowns.

"I haven't watched them on film," McCloskey said. "They haven't been a concern until tonight. We're not overlooking Ceres High. They put up big numbers throwing the ball and that's scary. We still have to beat them to get to playoffs. I wish them the best every single week except when they play us."

Ceres High won the the inaugural showdown between the Ceres Unified School District football programs, 20-7, in 2006.

The Bulldogs will try to end a six-game skid against the Hawks this week during senior night.

"We're going to be fired up," Bussard said. "We'll be prepared. It's going to be a high-scoring affair. We're going to give them a game."

"We got to play sound, fundamental football," McCloskey said. "We just can't win on talent alone."