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Battle Royale - Cougars, Raiders Meet For Section Crown
It's not too often that a No. 6 seed and a No. 8 seed meet in a championship game.

But then, again, it's not often that Central Catholic and Escalon are those relatively low seeds.

Saturday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship football game at Lincoln High School in Stockton pits the No. 6 Central Catholic Raiders against the No. 8 seed Escalon Cougars.

"The best public small school team against the best private small school team," Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro said. "This is who should be playing."

The Cougars, now with a record of 11-2 on the season and ranked 110th in the state, have taken down No. 1 seed Placer (on a last second field goal to win 27-26 on Nov. 16) and outlasted Los Banos in overtime, 42-35 on Nov. 23. (See story, photos in Sports, Page A13.)

Central Catholic comes in to the title game on the heels of a convincing 34-13 win over Center and will be on a mission to take down the Cougars, who have ended their season in the playoffs short of the final the last two years.

"Now we take on the big monster," said Loureiro of facing the Raiders. "They've had some big wins this year over St. Mary's and Los Banos, they come in at 11-2 and their only losses were to Placer and Downey."

Roger Canepa is head coach for the Raiders and, though they are friends off the field, Loureiro and Canepa do battle on the gridiron. For the Cougars, it will be about containing a pair of explosive players, Ray Lomas and Rey Vega. Central Catholic is ranked 72nd in the state.

"They run the ball first, throw second and they do some play action passes," Loureiro said. "They return seven starters on each side of the ball and last year against us, they blew a 17-point halftime lead ... I guarantee you those kids remember that."

Ray Lomas, a senior running back, strong safety and defensive back, comes in at 5-8, 180 and provides plenty of movement on the field. Bringing the speed, forcing defenders to chase him down, is Rey Vega, 5-10, 185, a senior running back and defensive back.

Other key players are Johnny Mundt, a tight end and defensive end, 6-5, 235; lineman Matt Palazzo, 6-2, 240; tackle Spencer Stark, 6-2, 205 and quarterback Garrett Ardis, 5-10, 175.

Escalon will be the visitors for the contest, sitting in the stands on the north side of the stadium opposite the press box. Game time on Saturday, Dec. 1 will be 1 p.m. and the gates at Lincoln High in Stockton will open at 11 a.m.

Tickets for the CIF championship game are $12 for adults, $8 for students and senior citizens, with those under 5 admitted free. Pre-sale of tickets will be done at the school, Thursday and Friday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; ask at the main office. There will be an additional cost for parking at the stadium.

Loureiro said the team traveled extremely well to Los Banos, with the community and former players alike turning out.

"People realized we needed the support," he said, asking for another solid showing at Lincoln on Saturday, despite the predictions of wet weather.

"We've been the underdog the last few weeks but maybe this team has a bit of destiny," Loureiro said of his 2012 Cougars. "We've got a ton of respect for Central Catholic and you really have the two best teams, playing their best ball of the season here ... the right two teams are playing for this championship."