Riley Williams beats Jace Burton to the pylon to score in the third quarter for Central, his second TD of the game. (Jon Olson)
Riley Williams beats Jace Burton to the pylon to score in the third quarter for Central, his second TD of the game. (Jon Olson)

It only takes two minutes to sum up Friday’s 6A semifinal football game, which Central Catholic won, 35-28, over Jesuit, before a packed house at Hillsboro Stadium.

The first minute came with the teams tied at 14-14 with just 3:23 remaining in the third quarter.

Going for it on fourth-and-two from the Jesuit 33-yard line, Cru Newman, Central Catholic’s sophomore quarterback, sent a rainbow down the left sideline to a streaking Stryder Todd-Fields. A fourth-and-one deep shot in the second quarter failed, but this one succeeded in spectacular fashion. Jesuit senior Matthew Rincon had the coverage and it was good.

The catch was better.

Todd-Fields caught it with Rincon in his face and the ball between Todd-Fields and the back of Rincon’s helmet. With the ball pinned, Todd-Fields backpedaled five yards into the end zone and the go-ahead touchdown.

“What great concentration by Stryder to hold onto the ball,” said Central Catholic head coach Steve Pyne. “I was hoping it was going to be pass interference; I didn’t think he was going to catch it.”

Asher Wajskol’s ensuing kickoff was a line drive knuckler that Jesuit’s return man struggled to control. As a result, he could not keep his balance and his knee touched down with possession at the Crusader three-yard-line. Two plays gained just two yards, leaving third-and-eight form the shadow of the goal line. Sophomore QB Jacob Hutchinson rolled left and threw, hoping to find a receiver downfield for a first down. He did not see Central Catholic defensive back Jordan King. The senior caught the ball with no one around him and danced untouched into the end zone.

In a matter of just 52 seconds, a tie game had turned into a daunting two touchdown lead for the reigning 6A champions.

“To get that mistake where he slips and falls and then to get the pick six…all high school games boil down to three or four or five plays in good football games,” Pyne said. “Those were a couple of them.”

“It is a game of inches,” said Jesuit head coach Ken Potter. “If your kid doesn’t kneel down, we’re back to the 30 or 40- yard-line and then we don’t have the situation where we’re near the goal line.”

The second minute came with Central Catholic leading comfortably, 35-14, midway through the fourth quarter.

Jesuit had the ball at its own 24-yard-line facing second and 10 when a fullback Noah Staley fumbled forward and the ball appeared to be recovered by Central. A Ram recovery there and the game would have been all but over. Instead, the play was voided due to a referee’s inadvertent whistle. On the do-over, Hutchinson completed a pass in the middle of the field to Jace Burton for 31 yards. One play later, Staley took a short pass and turned it into a 45-yard touchdown skirting the right sideline.

Jesuit successfully recovered an onside kick and needed just two plays to score again, as Hutchinson launched a bomb down the right to Tyree Blake, who shook off a defender at the five-yard-line and pushed into the end zone. In a sequence that lasted 86 seconds, total, Jesuit went from being effectively done to within one score, down 35-28 with 4:30 yet to be played.

“The onside kick, we just didn’t execute in recovering it,” Pyne said. “Then we got a broken coverage. They’re high school kids. They’re going to make mistakes. But they responded. I was really proud of that.”

Jesuit tried another onside kick. King corralled this one for Central, which sought to run out the clock thanks to strong running from Ellis Bynum and Jacob Hardeman.

With 3:24 showing on the clock, Jesuit bowed its neck. Bynum was stuffed by sophomore Lonnie Burt for a three yard loss. Rather than run again with Jesuit out of time outs, Central Catholic attempted the knockout punch by throwing long to 6-7 junior tight end Riley Williams. Williams had already five balls for 95 yards for two touchdowns and had a step on Matthew Rincon, but the senior closed quickly and knocked the ball away. An 11-yard scramble from Newman set up a fourth-and- short for the Rams. Pyne eschewed a field goal, instead opting for a power run up the middle.

Bynum was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by Johnny Miller and Liam Cassidy. Jesuit had one last shot to tie or win, but the Crusaders needed to go 88 yards in 2:22 with no time outs. Their first pass was incomplete. Their second was intercepted, as King stepped in front of a Hutchinson pass deep down the middle of the field for his third interception of the game. 

“They beat us on that same route the possession before,” King explained. “I was just trying to be cognizant of that. As soon as he broke I just drove on it and tried to make a play.”

After the change of possession, two Bynum runs produced a first down and brought on the victory formation for the final two plays, until the clock ticked down to zero on Jesuit’s season.

“Overall I thought we played pretty good,” Pyne said. “Jesuit is a phenomenal team. They play with tenacity and we were able to make some adjustments at halftime and establish the run a little bit. They’ve got ‘The Franchise’ [the name for Jesuit’s O-Line]; we call our kids the ‘Independent Contractors.’ They just come to work every day to earn a paycheck.”

Three plays into the contest, played on a cloudy, windless day; ‘The Franchise’ was looking pretty good. After four-yard runs from Burt and Staley set up third-and –two from the Jesuit 28-yard-line, Hutchinson found star running back Michael Rincon all alone in the flat. The senior shrugged off a tackle around midfield and raced 72 yards in total for a touchdown just 86 seconds into the game.

Central Catholic matched that score with one of its own on its second drive. The Rams gained extraordinary field position, thanks to a 15-yard sack by Gavin Jackson and a 26-yard punt return by Todd-Fields to the Crusader 20-yard-line. Central backed up immediately, as a holding call on an incomplete made it first-and-24. On the next play, Newman delivered a strike to Williams on the skinny post about 20 yards down field. Williams broke right and used his big frame to bully defenders into the end zone. Nine minutes in and the game was tied at 7-7.

The rest of the half produced no points and very few yards as the defenses took over. Twice Jesuit started possessions in Central Catholic territory but could not score, as Gibson Coyle, Emar’rion Winston and a host of others tackled with ferocity and finality.

Jesuit’s defense was equally impressive. Matthew Rincon and Jake Viteznik locked down the corners and the Crusaders put relentless pressure on Newman, forcing him to scramble more than he threw. Garret Speer, Johnny Miller and Spencer McKelligon were particularly stout for Jesuit.

The second half started with Central Catholic with the ball, determined to improve on a running game that totaled just 35 yards, mostly from Newman scrambles, over the first 12 minutes. The drive lasted eight plays and consumed 67 yards, with Newman getting blasted on third-and-seven from the Jesuit 13-yard-line but delivering all the same a beautiful pass to Williams for his second touchdown of the game.

The drive featured four runs from Newman for 44 yards and two previous passes, both of which could (should?) have been intercepted.

Game of inches…

Jesuit responded in impressive fashion to tie the score. A Matthew Rincon kickoff return covering 40 yards set up the Crusaders just 58 yards from Central’s goal line. Four Michael Rincon runs produced 20 yards, but a third down incompletion created a fourth-and-two from the Ram 38-yard-line. Jesuit reached into its bag of tricks going for it, as the Crusaders opted for a flea flicker that resulted in a 43-yard touchdown pass from Hutchinson to McKelligon for the score.

The next two drives would mark that fateful first minute that saw Central Catholic go up by two scores.

There were two drives between that minute and the next fateful minute: Jesuit’s six-play, 40-yard drive that resulted in a turn over on downs; and Central Catholic’s long, 87-yard drive that included a questionable pass interference call in the end zone and 36 Bynum rushing yards, including a nine-yard scoring scamper.

The final stats showed Central Catholic, 13-0, with 381 yards of total offense to 380 for Jesuit. The Rams also won the turnover battle, 3-0.

“We made too many mistakes to beat a really, really, really good team,” Potter said. “Those can come back to haunt you. I just like the fact that our team never quit. We competed the whole time.”

“They were tough,” Williams said of Jesuit. “They’re strong, they’re physical, they’re fast and they put up a good fight.”

Michael Rincon finished with 132 yards of total offense and one touchdown for Jesuit, 11-2, which had an 11-game winning streak snapped. Hutchinson threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns.

“We improved a lot this year,” said Potter, whose team lost, 17-3, to West Linn in the season opener. “We had a lot of kids grow up and play well. It’s always sad for the seniors. As we all know, there’s one team that wins its last game and a lot of teams that lose their last game. Unfortunately, this was our night to lose it. But I’m real proud of the kids.”

Bynum and Newman combined for 168 yards on the ground in 36 attempts for Central Catholic. Newman added 197 yards through the air, with three touchdowns. The theme for the Rams in the post-game huddle was 11/29.

“11/29; that’s the Monday practice before the championship game,” said King, who caught five balls for 48 yards in addition to his three interceptions. “We’ve had that goal set in our minds since the Covid year we just played.”

Five days after that Monday practice, the Rams will lace them up to try to complete an unbeaten season and defend the state title they won in 2019. They will play 12-1 Tualatin, a 35-13 victor over West Linn in the other semifinal.

“I’m looking forward to another good battle like tonight,” Williams said.

“Tualatin has phenomenal athletes at the skill positions,” Pyne observed. “They are well-coached. Up front, they look good from what I’ve seen of them. We’ve got our work cut out. And they’re on a mission. They expected to be here. We did as well.

“I hope it’s a great high school football game.”