Center High School’s football program has arrived.
After competing in the shadows of rivals Bear River and Colfax in recent seasons, the No. 14 Cougars are off to their best start since the school opened in Antelope in 1982.
The host Cougars are rolling at 6-0 after a 48-17 beatdown of No. 16 Bear River in the opening game Friday of Pioneer Valley League play.
This was a rematch of a 2018 Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinal game, won by Bear River 28-13. Bear River also beat Center in Lake of the Pines last season in league play. A lot of Center players returned eager for payback.
“Our kids earned this victory tonight,” said Center coach Digol JBeily, an alum of the school. “We have some really good athletes on our team who are very competitive. In the back of their minds, this was a chip-on-the-shoulder game. They wanted it even more because of the loss from last year.”
Making plays happen for Center was quarterback Michael Wortham, a three-year starter. His wide receivers Latrell Harris, Demorae Jones, and Travon Richardson had key yards after the catch. The biggest target is 6-foot-3 wideout Brandon Fernandes, who had 186 yards, including a 66-yard second-half score.
Wortham finished with 272 total yards of offense and had touchdown strikes of 17 and 66 yards and another 2-yard touchdown on the ground. And running back Legend Young played like his name. He finished with 135 total yards and had scores of 17 and 21 yards.
“I was very impressed with my receivers tonight,” Wortham said. “All those yards after the catch shows how important the weight room is. We work really hard in the weight room and it translates on the field.”
Keeping Wortham safe in the pocket and opening up holes for the team were the earth-movers, the offensive line of Adam Armienta, Tyler Anderson, Kelvin Jackson, Jacob Kolak and Jacob Meyer. They allowed no sacks or pressures.
“The pocket was very good for me tonight because of my line,” Wortham said. “I’ll have to reward them for protecting me by taking them to dinner.”
On the other side, Bear River (5-1) has a playmaker of its own in Tre Maronic, who can play any position on offense, defense and special teams. Midway through the second quarter is when Bear River’s small roster of 20 took a major hit. Maronic went down with an apparent collarbone injury that sidelined him the rest of the game.
In the absence of Maronic, Center outscored Bear River 27-7 in the second half after leading 21-10 at halftime.
“Tre is a great athlete and him going down had an impact because they had to adjust,” JBeily said. “He’s their main player on offense and defense.”
The Cougars take their 6-0 record to Foothill next week, while Bear River will look to bounce back against Lindhurst.