MODESTO – East Union, meet Justin Rice.
He’s a junior at Central Catholic High School and he has the uncanny ability to simply shift directions while he’s running and push tacklers off of him.
And that’s when he’s not galloping through the open field.
He did plenty of that Friday night as the Lancers made a futile attempt to contain one the Valley Oak League’s most dynamic players and the two-time CIF small-school state champions on the road in a 52-0 loss.
“Every week we believe in our game plan 100 percent, and knew what we wanted to do against them and what we were going to run,” East Union head coach Willie Herrera said. “It just didn’t work. We didn’t do the little things that you need in order to compete with a team like this, and it starts with the simple things like tackling.
“We have a long way to go. Nobody likes this feeling – not the players and definitely not the coaches. But right now it’s just on to Lathrop.”
The Raiders, who lost their first VOL game of the season last week to Sierra, came out swinging when Rice took the ball 36 yards on Central Catholic’s first play from scrimmage for a touchdown. He’d finish the game with three and 219 rushing yards – the bulk of which came on a 91yard gallop along the home sideline in the third quarter that served as nothing more than flashy show points for a game that was already out of reach.
Rice’s senior brother Jared managed to be the team’s leading receiver, hooking up with quarterback Hunter Petlansky five times and pulling the ball down in the end zone twice. Petlansky’s lone interception came on a tipped Rice pass, but outside of that the experimental Raiders aerial attack – which included standard running backs like Justin Rice out wide in a spread-like formation – kept the Lancers scrambling.
East Union tried all night to get any offensive traction but had trouble against the Raider defense. The team only crossed midfield on two drives, and one of them extended as far as the Central Catholic 49 yard-line before the Lancers decided to punt.
“All that we can do right now is keep working,” Herrera said. “It’s time to look forward.”