The seeds for Capital Christian’s appearance against small-school behemoth Central Catholic in Friday night’s CIF Northern California Regional Division IV championship game in Modesto, which the Cougars lost 35-14, were planted four years ago.
That’s when new head coach Phil Grams and top assistant Andre Johansen took over a faltering program in the spring of 2011.
“We had 12 kids total for the varsity and JV teams at our first spring workout,” Grams said. “We were looking at one another wondering, ‘What have we gotten ourselves into?’ ”
Interest seemed to be waning in the sport at the Rosemont private school campus after the Cougars went 4-6 the previous year.
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But eventually more players came out, enough to field two teams. Though the varsity struggled to a 5-5 finish and 3-2 record in the Golden Empire League as they adapted to the fly-sweep Grams brought from Granite Bay where he has been a longtime assistant to Ernie Cooper.
But Grams and Johansen saw potential among a group of freshmen on a JV team that Grams said sometimes played with 12 players that season.
Eventually flyback-safety and Harvard-bound Justice Shelton-Mosley, wide receiver-defensive back Josh Manansala and offensive linemen Jared Shaw and Chris Victoriano would provide the foundation for a program that that would go 32-5 over the next three seasons, including a 13-0 run this year before Friday’s loss.
On Friday, the Cougars had no answer for Central Catholic junior running back Justin Rice. He rushed for 280 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns to lead the Raiders to their third consecutive D-IV NorCal title and a trip to the state finals on Friday at the StubHub Center in Carson, where they are two-time defending state champs.
The Cougars made a game of it when Jacob Norville’s 38-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack Haney cut Central Catholic’s lead to 21-14 with 4:44 to play in the third quarter. But Central Catholic closed the game out on two- and eight-yard touchdown runs by quarterback Hunter Petlansky.
Central Catholic was able to overcome three fumbles, including two recovered by Capital Christian’s Shaw. Both teams were stymied by the muddy, slick grass field. Though he went over 7,000 all-purpose yards for his career, Shelton-Mosley was among the players who had trouble cutting on the worn field. He was limited to 24 rushing yards on 12 carries. His longest play was a 19-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.
Unable to get much going on the ground, Norville threw 30 times, completing 11 for 117 yards. He was intercepted once.
Still, Grams said the foundation has been set for the Cougars to be a force.
He said a lot of credit goes to Shelton-Mosley, who developed into a master recruiter, bringing in difference-making players Edward Ware, a defensive back-receiver, and 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end Nic Aibodefe from the basketball team.
Ware wanted to play football at the 400-student school as a freshman. He even went to a few practices before his mother said no way. She relented the next season, and now he is getting interest (though no offers yet) from Eastern Washington, Sacramento State and New Mexico State.
“He’s only played 21/2 years of football so he’s still the best kept secret,” Grams said. “He’s a D-I player.”
Now Capital Christian has a program in place, a new-look stadium and a junior program that’s teaching the basics of the rarely seen fly sweep.
“Our team chemistry, team unity was amazing,” Ware said. “We were always having fun together. We trusted in the process and worked really hard at perfecting our plays. That had a lot to do with our success this year.”
The Cougars met all their preseason goals, capped by winning the section (Division VI) title.
Shelton-Mosley was the Golden Empire League Player of the Year and Luis Gomez the Defensive Player of the Year. Ware, Shaw, Norville (a sophomore), Haney and Aibodefe, landed All-GEL first team honors along with senior running back Nick Valdez, sophomore defensive lineman Weston Jones and junior linebacker Marcus Fowler.
“This has been an amazing season,” Gomez said. “Give a lot of credit to the coaching staff, and what they started four years ago. This whole time we’ve been learning, conditioning and weight lifting.
“Now as seniors we’re so proud of each other. We’re leaving a legacy for when we are gone.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.