Central Catholic reaches state championship game with 44-41 win over Bullard

·3 min read

For the first time since playing in the 2015 small school open division title game, Central Catholic will represent Northern California in the state championships.

The Raiders jumped out to an early lead against Bullard in the CIF State Football Championships Northern California bowl game and never looked back, fending off a Knights comeback to win 44-41.

In 2015, Central Catholic completed a perfect season, going 16-0 and beating 15-1 San Marino 56-21 in their final game of the season to claim a state title.

“We haven’t been back in, what, I don’t even know the last time we were back, five or six years,” said coach Roger Canepa. “It’s just nice.”

Central Catholic used its size on the offensive line to announce its presence early, scoring rushing touchdowns on its first four offensive possessions to put up 28 points before halftime.

“Our offensive line has done good all year,” Canepa said. “You’ve got to give the line credit.”

The line led the way all season for running backs Aiden Taylor — who finished the night with 24 carries for 263 yards and four touchdowns — and his running mate, Julian Lopez, who added a rushing touchdown of his own.

“The ground game was great,” Taylor said. “I’ve got to thank my linemen, they were able to open up the holes and I was able to carve away yard by yard. We had a couple of big runs but it starts with the linemen first and I’ve got nothing but respect for them.”

Central Catholic’s Julian Lopez escapes Bullard defenders on a run during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Central Catholic’s Julian Lopez escapes Bullard defenders on a run during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.

While the offense rolled, the Raiders’ defense kept the Knights’ passing game in check. Jaelen Nichols and Nolan Croasdale each picked off Bullard quarterback Roland Russo, giving the offense great field position and momentum that it converted into rushing touchdowns.

Bullard shook off the rust before the intermission and scored twice in the first half to keep the game within reach at 28-13.

The Knights put together a strong second half. After an eight-point third quarter, the offense hit its stride in the fourth, scoring 20 points, including a 67-yard touchdown pass from Russo to Jayden Davis to cut the Raiders’ lead to 41-34 with 6:20 remaining.

Bullard’s Jalyn Utendahl runs the ball during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Central Catholic at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Bullard’s Jalyn Utendahl runs the ball during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Central Catholic at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.

“They made plays,” Canepa said. “You’ve got to give them credit. We had fourth down, we got a (pass interference), we threw a pick. Any of those plays turns the field back to us, but it didn’t. We’ve got to give them credit, they played hard.”

The Raiders won this game in the first half, and though the second half was ugly, Canepa will take a postseason win any way he can get it.

“It’s not (about) by how many, you just win.”

The Raiders will play Mater Dei Catholic for the 2-AA state title on Friday at 4 p.m. at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. Mater Dei Catholic (12-0) defeated Helix 24-21 to claim the Southern California 2-AA championship.

Central Catholic’s Aiden Taylor reaches across the goal line for a touchdown in the first half of the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Central Catholic’s Aiden Taylor reaches across the goal line for a touchdown in the first half of the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Central Catholic’s Anthony Wildenberg kicks an extra point during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Central Catholic’s Anthony Wildenberg kicks an extra point during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Bullard’s Jalyn Utendahl runs the ball during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Central Catholic at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Bullard’s Jalyn Utendahl runs the ball during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Central Catholic at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Central Catholic’s Julian Lopez escapes Bullard defenders on a run during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Central Catholic’s Julian Lopez escapes Bullard defenders on a run during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Bullard’s Jalyn Utendahl pitches the ball to teammate Daizon Allen (12) during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Central Catholic at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Bullard’s Jalyn Utendahl pitches the ball to teammate Daizon Allen (12) during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Central Catholic at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Bullard’s quarterback Roland Russo throws a first half touchdown pass in the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Central Catholic at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Bullard’s quarterback Roland Russo throws a first half touchdown pass in the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Central Catholic at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Bullard’s Wendell Ware makes a catch and run for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Bullard’s Wendell Ware makes a catch and run for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Central Catholic’s Aiden Taylor runs the ball during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Central Catholic’s Aiden Taylor runs the ball during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Central Catholic’s Aiden Taylor is helped up by his teammates during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Central Catholic’s Aiden Taylor is helped up by his teammates during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Central Catholic’s Aiden Taylor runs for a touchdown in the second half of the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Central Catholic’s Aiden Taylor runs for a touchdown in the second half of the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021. Central Catholic won the game 44-41.
Central Catholic’s Anthony Wildenberg kicks field goal during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
Central Catholic’s Anthony Wildenberg kicks field goal during the CIF Division II Northern California Regional Championship game with Bullard (Fresno) at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., Dec. 3, 2021.
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