State

On a Crusade: MC blasts Central, becomes king of Modesto football

SALIDA -- Isaiah Burse reached out Friday night and ripped the crown from the Stanislaus District's king of football.

"Central Catholic has been the best for how many years? If you want to be the best, you have to go out and beat the best," Modesto Christian's electrifying quarterback said. "We had to beat Central Catholic. When people think football, they think Central Catholic."

After years of frustration against their crosstown parochial school rival, the Crusaders delivered the biggest win in school history -- yes, even bigger than those basketball games Reeves Nelson and Co. won the last few years.

With Burse at the controls of a big-play offense, the Crusaders pulled away in the second half for a 40-21 win over Central Catholic in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 semifinal -- and an overflow crowd of about 3,000 was there to see it all.

The Crusaders (13-0) will face Placer (12-1), a school that is almost four times the size of Modesto Christian, in next week's championship game at Lincoln High in Stockton. The Hillmen rallied past Sonora 15-14 in the other D4 semifinal.

"We want to play two more games, but we're just worrying about next week's game right now," said Burse, who ran for 261 yards and passed for 158. "We want to go as far we can. So long as they let us keep playing, we'll keep showing up."

If the Crusaders beat Placer, they'll go to the State Small School Bowl in Carson. They are No 1 in the CalHiSports.com NorCal small-school rankings, and might be the only northern team that can compete with Southern California's talent-laden programs.

No one was talking about a bowl game Friday night, they were too busy celebrating.

MC coach Mike Parsons, who arrived six years ago with the goal of beating Central Catholic, didn't flinch when the bucket of water rained down on him moments after the final gun.

"Any semifinal game would be a big game, but a semifinal against Central Catholic? Now that's a big game," said Parsons, all too aware that Central has a record 15 section championships and MC has none.

In the biggest game, naturally, it was the biggest player who stepped forward. Burse, a three-year starter and the most sought-after player in the district, managed to surpass even his lofty expectations.

Central Catholic had just tied the game at 14 on Craig Jones' 25-yard sweep down the right sideline and, considering the Raiders had scored late in the first half, the momentum was swinging back to the Raiders.

It took just two plays for MC to get it back, as Burse spotted Kevin Roya running free at the 50-yard line and hit him in stride. Roya, 10 yards clear of the nearest defender, went the rest of the way to complete the 74-play and give MC a 20-14 lead.

MC missed the extra point, though, and then fell behind moments later when Jack Killian returned the kickoff 74 yards and Dylan Swartz hit fullback Sam Cronkite in the right flat for a 14-yard TD.

Sebastian Hernandez's PAT gave the Raiders their first, and only, lead.

The Crusaders drove 80 and 70 yards on their next two possessions, with Burse firing TD passes of 11 and 26 yards to Roya. The pair also hooked up on a two-point conversion, and the Crusaders were up 34-21 with 9:18 to play.

"We're a run-first team, but people forget Isaiah can throw the ball pretty good," said Roya, who caught four balls for 123 yards and ran for 80 and a fourth TD. "We've got guys on this time who can turn any play into a touchdown. We're explosive."

Burse had 10 runs of at least 11 yards, including a 56-yard TD scamper off a fake punt in the second quarter that made it 14-0. He had 21 carries, averaging 12 yards every time he ran, and completed six passes for 158 yards, averaging 26 yards a completion.

"We knew it was going to be tough to stop Isaiah," said Central quarterback Dylan Swartz, who passed for a career-high 327 yards and two TDs. "Our defense did a good job in the first half, but it's difficult to stop a guy like Isaiah all night."

Especially when the 6-foot, 180-pounder has blockers in front of him.

Burse was particularly effective sweeping to his right, taking the snap in the shotgun and following four blockers -- two linemen and two backs -- toward the right sideline. With his mates eliminating the first line of defenders, he often gained the first five or six yards without being touched.

Once he hit the corner, well ...

"We fell into that play by accident, when we used it against Colfax a few weeks ago," said Parsons, whose club rolled up 544 yards offense against Central. "We saw that Isaiah was getting to the corner before anyone got to him, so we made it part of the offense."

With Central's defense focused on the inside running game, that left the corners lightly defended. That helped the Crusaders rush for 386 yards and allowed them to dominate the final quarter.

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at restrada@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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