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Rams overrun Saxons for seventh straight win

The Central Catholic Rams are a scorching opponent these days.

Before Friday night's home game at Jeld-Wen Field, the Rams had won six straight games by an average margin of nearly 27 points.

Round one of the Oregon School Activities Association Class 6A playoffs was no different, as Central Catholic ran away from South Salem 51-6.

The Mt. Hood Conference champions (8-2 and ranked sixth in the state) will play host next week to No. 11 Thurston (7-3). The Colts advanced Friday with a 46-27 home victory over 21st-ranked Aloha (5-6).

'We have good kids who are coachable, and I have a great coaching staff,' coach Steve Pyne said, of the Rams. 'This team had a goal at the beginning of the year - to make a deep run in the playoffs. We're gelling at the right time. It's a credit to the kids.'

The Rams' offense has put up 40 or more points in four of the last five games, including three in a row after Friday. And, with Hayward Denison in the backfield, it's no surprise.

The 6-1, 190-pound senior totaled a blistering 252 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries in the first half against South Salem.

Somewhere in the blur of Denison's destruction of the Saxons defense, he sustained a head injury. He did not come back to the sideline for the second half.

'Our medical staff (advised us) to shut him down for the night so he can play next week,' Pyne said. 'Hayward is a special player who is just starting to find his groove.'

In the last six games, Denison has averaged more than 126 yards and scored eight touchdowns.

But there is much more to Central Catholic football. The offense used 11 running backs Friday night and amassed 431 yards on the ground.

'We have a stable full of running backs,' Pyne said.

The dual-quarterback system, whose production included a chunk of those rushing yards, combined to complete 14 of 17 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, the Rams have been tough, too. Central Catholic racked up four sacks and an interception against the Saxons.

'We have size up front and speed on the perimeter,' senior captain and lineman Alex Balducci said. 'It's hard for people to score points on us.'

The 6-4, 280-pound senior, who has verbally committed to the Oregon Ducks, is among the best tacklers on the team; he had 49 stops in the regular season. And he has a lot of help on the defensive line; fellow seniors Tyler Negae (250 pounds) and Jacob Nall (235) also provide some beef.

Meanwhile, defensive backs Troy Gernhart and Beau Duronslet forced the Saxons' quarterbacks into some bad throws, as the Rams limited South Salem to 11 of 27 passing for 133 yards.

'I thought (Duronslet) played out of his mind tonight,' Pyne said, of the junior. 'He probably didn't have a lot of stats, but he kept stringing things outside and buying time.'

The Saxons' touchdown came in the first quarter. Quarterback Andy Surrett was flushed from the pocket and, in desperation, heaved the ball to running back Jimmy Raynak, who dove for the 19-yard score.

Central Catholic had struck first. Early in the opening quarter, Denison found a crease and cruised down the left sideline for a 79-yard score.

After the Saxons missed a field goal, Rams quarterback Ben Cook hooked up with wide receiver Louis Pinder, who took a quick slant from the right side all the way back to the left for a 54-yard touchdown.

A little later, Denison picked his way through the Saxons' defensive line and secondary, and the Central offense found its way back into the red zone. Denison finished off the drive with an 18-yard blast up the middle.

'We clicked pretty well on offense at times tonight,' Pyne said. 'We were kind of ugly in the first half, but we ran the ball well, and our offensive line did a great job.'

The Rams, who led 21-6 at the half, went on a scoring spree in the third quarter. Pinder caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from QB Aiden Wilder, who had to do some scrambling before he found his receiver.

On South Salem's next possession, a snap went over the head of quarterback Jaylynn Bailey and into the end zone, where he was tackled for the safety.

The Rams got excellent field position after the free kick, and running back Moli Langi squirmed into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.

An interception set up a 3-yard TD run by Langi, who finished the game with nine carries for 30 yards and two touchdowns.

With a 44-6 lead in the fourth quarter, the reserves began trickling onto the field. About halfway through the frame, Central Catholic made one final push. Running back Ryan Nall pummeled the Saxons' defense, carrying eight times on the drive for 56 yards and a 5-yard touchdown.