STOCKTON - If Friday night's Valley Oak League home opener between Weston Ranch and visiting Modesto-Central Catholic looked familiar, at least the opening kickoff was identical.
Once again, Central Catholic's Jared Rice returned the opening kickoff - this time 85 yards - for the first of his three touchdowns in the Raiders' 45-7 victory at Cougars Stadium. Though Weston Ranch (3-1, 0-1 VOL) fared slightly better over last year's score (59-14), it wasn't the beginning Cougars coach Seth Davis envisioned.
"Obviously that opening kickoff took a lot of wind out of our sails," Davis said. "We weren't supposed to kick it to Rice; he did that to us last year. For them to open it up like that, high school games are won on momentum.
"I thought we played awesome defense in the first half," he added. "We held their offense to three points, and we had a big one taken back."
Davis was referring to what seemed to be Weston Ranch's first score of the game with 59 seconds left until halftime. With the score 17-0, Weston ranch quarterback Terry Snipes connected with Elijah Harper for an apparent 33-yard touchdown.
However, the Cougars were called for holding and, as Davis objected, he was ejected from the game.
"You can't leave (the game) in other people's hands, you have to take care of what you're supposed to do," said Davis, after the game.
Central Catholic's (2-2, 1-0) only other first-half touchdown was a pick-six by Luke Navarro, who went untouched 29 yards for the score. By halftime, Weston Ranch had out-gained the Raiders in offensive yardage, 100-38, but the Raiders had 149 return yards.
After the Raiders extended their lead to 39-0 in the fourth quarter, Weston Ranch's James Walker returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards. It was his second kickoff return of the season.
"We needed it to put some points on the board," Walker said. "I knew I had it when I turned up the corner. It was a relief that somebody scored; somebody had to do it."
Snipes was 6 of 16 for 37 yards and one interception, while Cori Floyd led the Cougars in rushing with 56 yards on nine carries.
Rice and Montell Bland rushed for 170 and 72 yards, respectively, with a dozen carries apiece. Raiders quarterback Cole Petlansky had no completions on four attempts.
"(Weston Ranch) is a good football team, they were 3-0," Raiders coach Roger Canepa said. "It was nice to be back after a week off. We had our problems here lately, but this was nice. A big win to start league, and we're trying to come back and repeat as VOL champions."