PORTLAND – Central Catholic's championship DNA was put to an acid test Friday night in a 6A football quarterfinal at Jesuit.
The two-time reigning champion Rams trailed in the fourth quarter but delivered in the clutch, getting a go-ahead touchdown pass with eight minutes left, and a defensive stand with the Crusaders knocking on the door in the final minute, to pull out a 23-20 win.
“We try not to go back to last year, but it does give us confidence,” Central Catholic junior quarterback Cru Newman said of performing under pressure. “We know we have the tools to keep doing what we're doing, get the result we want. We're just going to keep moving on from here.”
Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne raved about how the fifth-seeded Rams (10-1), who had beaten Oregon opponents by an average margin of 47.8 points this season, rose to the challenge against No. 4 Jesuit (9-2).
“We faced our toughest test in nine weeks, and our kids came to play,” said Pyne, whose team advances to play No. 1 West Linn (10-1) in the semifinals. “I told them it was going to be a 48-minute game against a really great program, and I knew their kids wouldn't quit. We got some big plays.”
Jesuit took a 20-17 lead with 10:30 remaining on a 12-yard by senior Garrett Speer, but junior Kadyn Butcher's extra-point attempt into a stiff wind misfired low and away.
Central Catholic pulled ahead 23-20 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Newman to sophomore Zhaiel Smith with 7:55 left. On the previous play – fourth-and-13 at the Jesuit 46 – Newman scrambled for 21 yards, and another 10 yards was tacked on for a Jesuit penalty.
Pyne opted not to punt on the long fourth down.
“Not in that situation, especially with having a punt blocked earlier, and they were close on another one,” Pyne said. “I was just going to put it in Cru's hands, and our offensive line's hands, and receivers, and see what they did. I look like a prophetic genius.”
On the touchdown pass, Newman threw a perfect strike across the middle to Smith in the end zone.
“We just saw a DB playing inside shade,” Smith said. “I knew I could get inside, and stick vertical, and we just executed that play.”
Jesuit, which blocked the ensuing extra-point attempt, took over and began to march down the field behind the running of 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior Payton Roth. The Crusaders had a first down at the Central Catholic 16 in the closing minutes and appeared ready to retake the lead.
But on first down, Central Catholic junior Cade Gehlen tripped up Roth for a one-yard loss, and the Rams forced three consecutive incomplete passes by Jesuit junior quarterback Jacob Hutchinson to regain possession. The Rams ran out the final 43 seconds.
“Just missed throws, missed opportunities,” Hutchinson said. “Killed our momentum.”
Did Jesuit coach Ken Potter consider attempting a 34-yard field goal, into the wind, to tie?
“Hindsight is always 20-20, but no,” Potter said. “Did you see the extra point? Well, I don't know what your mindset as a kicker is when an extra point like that goes awry.”
Gehlen's defensive play stunted Jesuit's momentum.
“Our motto this year has been, 'one play,' give everything you've got for one play,” Gehlen said. “Empty your tank out, pour your hearts out, for one play. … We wanted to get them out of their run offense. We practice spread every day, so we were comfortable with that. That's what we wanted to do.”
Pyne praised the play of Gehlen, who also scored two touchdowns on offense, a six-yard pass from Newman in the first quarter and a 68-yard run in the second quarter.
“Cade Gehlen was all over the place tonight,” Pyne said.
Newman completed 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 95 yards on 15 carries. He kept Jesuit's defense off balance by repeatedly extending plays with his legs. He has run for 417 yards in the last four games.
“It's crazy. I don't know how he does it, but he does it,” Gehlen said of Newman. “Every week he just gets better at it. He always keeps the play alive, makes big plays.”
Speer was impressed with Newman.
“Cru's a special player,” Speer said. “He makes quite a few plays. It's hard to play against. He's not your average quarterback. He's very shifty, can make you miss.”
In the first half, Jesuit got a 29-yard touchdown run by Roth and a 26-yard scoring pass from Hutchinson to junior Jace Burton to lead 14-7.
After Gehlen's long touchdown run tied it at 14-14, the Crusaders had the ball in the red zone on back-to-back possessions but turned it over both times. Smith made a one-handed interception on a deep pass by Hutchinson and sophomore Zach Davis recovered a fumble by Roth.
Central Catholic took a 17-14 lead into halftime on a 26-yard field goal by senior Bo Robertson as time expired. The Rams gambled by going for it on fourth-and-two at their own 32 inside the final minute, and Newman came through with a 10-yard pass to junior Pomer Davison to maintain possession.
The Crusaders had lost in the semifinals in the last three postseasons, including a 35-28 playoff defeat to Central Catholic last year. They were hungry for some payback, but were unable to capitalize on a myriad of chances.
“We had a ton of opportunities in the first half and the second half, all throughout the game,” Potter said. “Stopping them on fourth down, or making fourth downs. It comes down to making plays at crucial times. They made more of them than we did.”
Roth, who entered the game with 1,786 rushing yards, finished with 158 yards on 32 carries despite being slowed by a sore ankle.
“We knew Payton was hurt coming into this game,” Hutchinson said. “He's played a hell of a season. I'm really proud of him, honestly, battling through injury, playing like that. It's disappointing we couldn't get the win for him.”