HILLSBORO – The long frame of junior Riley Williams and the big heart of senior Ellis Bynum sparked No. 1 Central Catholic to its most important win of the football season Friday night at Hillsboro Stadium.
The 6-foot-7 Williams caught two touchdown passes in the first half – the second one as time expired to put host Central Catholic ahead to stay – and Bynum took over in the second half with his relentless running as the Rams brushed aside No. 4 Clackamas 38-20 to claim the Mt. Hood Conference championship.
The win over the rival Cavaliers (9-1, 7-1) in front of an ESPNU national television audience gives the Rams (10-0, 8-0) a boost heading into the 6A playoffs as they pursue their second state championship in three seasons.
“Man, this was the game we were looking at since the start of the year,” Williams said. “We saw that schedule came out, we saw Clackamas as the last game, and we were like, 'Oh yeah, time to show out.'”
The Rams were hoping that the win would vault them into the top four of the OSAA power rankings and assure them of home games through the quarterfinals. Before the game, Clackamas and Central Catholic were fifth and sixth, respectively.
“It's great to beat a great team like that,” said Bynum, who rushed for 135 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries and caught five passes for 68 yards and one score. “In all the rankings, we've been placed lower. But that doesn't really matter on the field. I feel like we went out tonight and showed that.”
The first half turned out to be a showcase for Williams, rated by 247Sports as a four-star recruit and the state's No. 1 junior prospect. The 235-pound Williams is a tight end, but he showed his versatility by lining up wide to make up for the absence of senior receiver Jordan King, who left the game in the first quarter as he continues to nurse an ankle he sprained last week against Gresham.
Williams hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Cru Newman early in the second quarter, outjumping Clackamas junior Keontae Johnson-Gibson on the sideline and winning a 50-yard sprint to the end zone. He made it 14-7 on the final play of the half by catching a 38-yard touchdown, going over the top of defenders in the end zone.
“That dude is crazy,” Bynum said of Williams, who had five catches for 145 yards, all in the first half. “Everybody was trying to overrate him, but he came out and balled. No words. That dude is just insane.”
The Rams came prepared to use Williams at wideout if King couldn't go.
“We worked Riley there all week,” Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne said. “He's just a matchup nightmare for people. You're 6-7, and you can run and jump, that kind of thing.”
Perhaps Williams raised his recruiting profile with the performance on ESPNU.
“He probably opened some eyes,” Pyne said. “Just showing that other piece of him tonight, that he can go outside and be a matchup nightmare, it certainly didn't do him any disservice.”
Clackamas senior K.J. Johnson-Gibson is having a big season at cornerback, but hadn't seen anyone like Williams.
“He's a good dude,” K.J. Johnson-Gibson said. “It's a great matchup. Lining up with him is a really great experience. It's a way just to get better. It's fun to line up with someone like him.”
Bynum began to assert his will in the third quarter, setting the tone with hard runs of 13 and 15 yards on Central Catholic's first two plays. He pushed the lead to 21-7 on a 29-yard touchdown run in which his progress was stopped up the middle but he bounced outside and beat a defender to the end zone.
Bynum made it 28-7 early in the fourth quarter when he turned a screen pass from Newman into a 23-yard touchdown.
“After a little bit of a rocky first half, I kind of just came out and said, 'Just slow things down,'” said Bynum, who rushed for 110 of his yards in the second half. “I know my abilities and I kind of just play to them. Because the first half, I was all in my mind. And the second half I just came out and said, 'Let's ball.'”
Williams offered praise for Bynum.
“Every college recruiter, I promise that's a guy that will make any college happy, for sure,” Williams said.
Pyne said of Bynum: “It's just a warrior spirit in that kid.”
Senior Asher Wajskol hit a 39-yard field goal and Newman ran for a 17-yard touchdown as Central Catholic extended its lead to 38-7 midway through the fourth quarter. Johnson-Gibson caught touchdown passes for 46 and 30 yards from junior Blake Baker to close out the scoring.
Newman continued his efficient play by completing 18 of 23 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. For the season, he has passed for 27 touchdowns with one interception.
Newman showed his playmaking ability when he ducked a potential sack on the screen pass that Bynum turned into a touchdown.
“I'm still not sure how he got out of that one down there,” Pyne said. “I started calling him Spiderman, because he's got some Spidey senses.”
Clackamas junior Luke Ash rushed for 159 yards on 14 carries, pushing his season total to 946 yards. Blake had difficulty finding a rhythm against the Rams and finished 10 of 26 for 209 yards and the two scores to Johnson-Gibson, who had five catches for 151 yards.
The Cavaliers lamented their missed opportunities, such as when Ash ran 68 yards to the Central Catholic 5-yard line on their first play but they came up empty after three consecutive penalties.
“It was just like mental mistakes,” K.J. Johnson-Gibson said. “I think we were a totally even team, we just beat ourselves. We lost against ourselves. … It was really good the first half, and we just kind of got in our own heads.”
“It's just a little bit of mental errors and dumb flags,” Baker said. “We'll come back. We'll see them again. We can play better. I feel like we've got so much more capability. That was the first time playing against a good team all year, and now that we know what it's like, we're ready to go.”