INDEPENDENCE — Central High’s football team made a statement Friday night with a 65-0 victory over Woodburn in a Mid-Willamette Conference game.
The Panthers now hope to make another one in the postseason.
As No. 9 Central (6-3, 5-2) cruised to a 65-0 home win to close out the regular season, they needed Lebanon to knock off Crescent Valley to secure the Mid-Willamette Valley Conference title outright. Lebanon did just that, holding off the Raiders for a 26-21 victory.
The win secured the Panthers the No. 8 seed in the upcoming state playoffs, including a first-round home game next week.
“It’s gigantic,” said Central coach Shane Hedrick said of how the Panthers earned the No. 8 seed. “We’ll get a home game and that’s a big plus for anyone.”
Central’s win was its largest margin of victory this season. The Panthers have been in several close games. They have scored wins by 6, 7 and 8 points while suffering losses in games by 1, 3 and 10 points. With the playoffs on the horizon, Hedrick said the team is starting from scratch.
“We’ve always looked at it that it’s a whole new season,” Hedrick said. “We certainly want to go there, prove ourselves and make a statement.”
On Friday, the Panthers bolted out to a quick lead as sophomore Isaiah Abraham returned the game’s opening kickoff for a 90-yard touchdown. Later, Alvin Berroa, on Central’s first offensive play, scored on a 38-yard rushing touchdown, giving the Panthers a 13-0 lead after running a single offensive play.
The Panthers rolled from there, amassing a 41-0 lead after the first quarter. Peter Mendazona scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper before he threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Peter Mason in the quarter. Berroa added two more scores in the quarter, amassing three rushing touchdowns on nine carries for 209 yards in the first 12 minutes of the game.
Luke McBeth added a rushing touchdown for the Panthers later in the half, along with three scores by junior running back Andrew Reyna as Central cruised to a 59-0 halftime lead. Reyna added a 12-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter as Central’s reserves received the bulk of the playing time.
Berroa, who finished with 12 rushes for 239 yards and three scores in less than two quarters of action, said he was simply happy the Panthers earned the win and now can look forward to the postseason.
“It feels great,” he said of the win. “I don’t even know how to explain it. It just feels good. It honestly does, now that we know we’re in the playoffs. It’s a start to a new season when we’re in the playoffs.”
Hedrick said the Panthers had to “play our kind of football,” but lamented that Woodburn (0-9, 0-7) has had such a difficult season due to injuries and it finishing the season without a win.
“But it was important that we play at a high level,” he said. “You don’t focus on your opponent — you focus on what you do, and we did a lot of things right tonight. I think we took care of the ball well and executed, both offensively and defensively.”
Berroa said he thinks the Panthers can go far in the playoffs.
“I think our strength is going to be defense,” he said. “If we set the tone on defense and move the chains on offense, we’ll go far because we’re a great football team.”
Hedrick said the Panthers have relied on one simple aspect throughout the season.
“I’m going to be vanilla with it: I think our kids are working really hard,” he said. “They’ve been playing fundamentally-sound football all year long, and that’s really worked for us. Throw in our chemistry that we have, and that helps. But we’ve just been playing fundamentally-sound football and we showed that tonight.”
Hedrick said the team has gelled as the season has progressed, the upperclassmen bringing the younger and less experienced players along, including sophomores Abraham, Mendazona, lineman Braden Fuszek and safety Marcos Cedillo.
“It’s just an accumulation of players,” he said. “You can talk about the four sophomores we have who play for us a lot, but we’ve got some good juniors in there and some good seniors in there. All of those kids working together makes for a really successful season.”