MODESTO -- After a preleague schedule that included games against regional powers Placer and St. Mary's and coming off an historic loss to Downey, Central Catholic had questions entering Western Athletic Conference play.
Could the Raiders take the necessary high level of energy into its game against Los Banos? And once into the game, could the team withstand another physical 48 minutes?
Both questions were answered in the affirmative and with gusto in a dominant second half as Central blanked the Tigers over the final two quarters of a 35-14 conference-opening win.
"We play a doggone tough schedule, so week-in and week-out we have to play our best game," said Raiders' coach Roger Canepa, who beat Los Banos for the first time in three tries as Central's head coach.
"Maybe that schedule we've played helped us in the second half, because we've been there. We've been banged on."
Even in this game Central (3-2 overall) took its share of hits, as it was outgained 400-340. But the bulk of those Tigers' yards came between the 20s, because Los Banos (4-1) struggled in the red zone.
In all, the Tigers got inside the Central 20 on five occasions, and only twice came away with scores.
"Inside the 20 three times and come away with nothing? You can't do that against mediocre teams, let alone against a team like Central Catholic," said Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso. "We gave away far too many chances."
The marquee matchup of top running backs played out as advertised. Central's Ray Lomas gained 180 yards on 22 carries and reached the end zone on runs of 4 and 8 yards, while Los Banos got 198 yards from James Sams on a grueling 31 carries.
But except for a two-point conversion run, Sams was held out of the end zone, as was the entire Los Banos team after forging a 14-14 tie with 33 seconds left in the half.
Central took control in the third quarter while resting Lomas. In his place, Nate Loya helped to boost the Raiders to a two-score lead.
After Los Banos' opening drive of the second half reached the Central 11 before dying on back-to-back sacks of quarterback Chris Corpuz by defensive end John Mundt, the Raiders quickly struck.
Loya's 35-yard run set-up his own 36-yard score on an inside counter for a 21-14 lead. Then, after the Tigers went three-and-out, Central went 46 yards in four plays -- a drive aided by a Los Banos personal foul -- and Lomas scored from 8 yards out for a 28-14 lead.
Los Banos again answered with a long drive that ended in agony, using 16 plays to move from its own 13 to the Central 15. But the last of seven sacks of Corpuz stopped the drive with 8:07 remaining in the game, stealing away any hope of a Tigers rally.
The Raiders capped the scoring with 1:55 remaining, when Matthew Ringer broke off a 30-yard run to account for the last of Central's 288 rushing yards.
"We played so well against St. Mary's and came out tired the next week," Canepa said. "When we play, we're good, and we're going to get better."