PREPS: Rams hit stride in MHC football race

by: MILES VANCE Central Catholic senior Moli Langi runs for yardage in an early-season game against Jesuit.

Central Catholic's football team has hit its stride at exactly the right moment. The Rams started 1-2. Now, behind a fast, ball-hawking defense, a high-octane return game and an improving offense, they have won their past three games.

The Rams (4-2, 2-0) are tied with Gresham and Barlow atop the Mt. Hood Conference. Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne says Thursday's 7 p.m. matchup with Gresham at Hillsboro Stadium will reveal a lot about how good Central Catholic is with the state playoffs a few weeks away.

'We're going to play a playoff team, a very talented team that's playing extremely confidently,' Pyne says. 'We're going to know a lot about ourselves after Thursday.'

 Central Catholic had to begin its season without Pyne on the sidelines; he served a two-game suspension for violating Oregon School Activities Association practice rules during the summer. Without Pyne, the Rams went 1-1. Since he came back, the only blemish on Central's record is a 14-12 loss to Jesuit.

 Pyne stops short of saying that his presence is the reason for the Rams' three-game win streak and better play.

 'It might have something to do with it,' he says, 'but I don't have that big of an ego to think that it made that big of a difference.'

Led by safeties Dallin Leavitt and Beau Duronslet, Central Catholic's defense has been very good throughout the season. Last week, the Rams held Centennial to six points after the Eagles had lost 70-63 to Barlow the week before.

'On the defensive side of the ball, it's the fastest group of kids we've had collectively on the field since I've been here,' Pyne says.

Along with running back Hayward Demison, Leavitt and Duronslet make Central Catholic deadly every time a team has to kick the ball to them.

'Anytime they touch the ball they can take it into the end zone,' Pyne says. 'Those are big explosive plays and potential momentum-changing plays.'

The Rams offense has been improving throughout the season. The team has weapons on the perimeter, but also has a young offensive line. While the players up front are able to move the pile on any given play, the unit lacks varsity experience.

'The O-line is getting better every week,' Pyne says. 'We knew that we were going to be kind of young and inexperienced there. We're starting three guys right now who are in their first year of varsity. So the speed of the game is different than they're used to. But those guys are coming along.'

The Rams also do not have a set quarterback. They began the season with Ben Cook, a 6-3, 185 pound senior, at the position. After Cook tore his meniscus against Canby on Sept. 9, sophomore Aidan Wilder, 5-10, 170, took over.

Because there is limited risk of further damaging his knee, Cook has postponed surgery until after the season. He came back last week against Centennial and played a few series.

For now, Pyne plans to use both quarterbacks.

'Going forward right now, Wilder is going to continue to get the majority of the snaps until Ben is completely confident and has knocked all the rust off,' Pyne says. 'Then we'll see. It's a luxury to have two of them.'

While Pyne will reserve judgment of his team until after the Gresham game, when the playoffs roll around, like always, he says that whoever draws Central Catholic will its their hands full.

'I believe that we'll be a tough out,' Pyne says. 'I've believed that every year that I've been at Central.'

The other MHC contender, Barlow (2-0), takes on visiting David Douglas (0-2) Thursday night.

In Thursday games involving PIL schools: Grant (4-2) will meet Redmond (2-4) at Lincoln; Jefferson (3-0 PIL 5A, 3-3 overall) invades Franklin (1-1, 1-5); Wilson (1-1, 2-4) plays Benson (1-1, 1-5) at Marshall; and Madison (0-2, 0-5) goes to Cleveland (1-2, 1-5).

The Metro League, plays on Friday, with Jesuit (2-0) host to Aloha (0-2), Southridge (2-0) at Sunset (0-2), and Beaverton (1-1) at Westview (1-1).

Also Friday, 5A Bend will play at 6A Lincoln (3-3 overall); 4A Roosevelt (4-2) treks to Crook County (3-3); Lakeridge (1-1 Three Rivers League) will try to bounce back from its loss to No. 2-ranked Lake Oswego with a road trip to West Linn (2-0, 5-1); and 2A Portland Christian (1-0 Northwest League, 3-2 overall) is at home against Neah-Kah-Nie (1-0, 3-3).