YOUNGSVILLE — Central Catholic’s Stefano Guarisco had 59 offensive touches Friday night, and the Eagles needed almost every one of them.
Guarisco rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns, and did all the heavy lifting in a clinching final drive as the Eagles held off upset-minded Ascension Episcopal 28-21 in their District 7-A battle.
“He’s a warrior,” CCMC coach Tommy Minton. “He’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever coached. He just does what we need to do.
Guarisco had scoring runs of 8, 1 and 13 yards as part of his 49-carry night, and also threw for 37 yards and caught two passes. He had a hand in 298 of the Eagles’ 353 offensive yards.
More impressively, with CCMC leading by a score and taking possession with 9:01 left, he carried on 16 plays in a 17-play march and completed a 16-yard pass on the other as the Eagles ran out the final nine minutes with a 67-yard march.
“We knew what kind of player he was,” said Ascension coach Michael Desormeaux. “We had opportunities to stop him several times, but that’s just a good athlete.
“I don’t know of anyone we’ve played that wants the ball more.”
That final drive did just what the Eagles wanted, with the host Blue Gators (5-2, 2-1) not able to get the ball back after quarterback Jake Arceneaux found Zach Ronquillo on a crossing route for a 53-yard touchdown that made it a 28-21 game.
Arceneaux finished with two scores, including a 75-yard crosser to Brennan Ducote late in the first quarter, and also scored on a four-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. But other than those scoring drives, the Gators managed only 22 offensive yards.
Central Catholic (5-2, 3-1) had a huge 73-33 advantage in offensive plays, had a 21-6 advantage in first downs and never punted.
“That was the biggest key,” said Minton, whose squad played without starting quarterback Blake Byrne after a shoulder injury in last week’s 51-6 mauling of Hanson. “Their big-play potential scared us because their quarterback has a lot of weapons out there, so time of possession was critical.”
Guarisco was a big part of that. After a blocked punt on Ascension’s second possession gave CCMC possession at the Gator 8, he scored on the second play on an eight-yard cutback. He also had a one-yard drive midway through the second quarter to cap a 77-yard, 17-play march, and finished off a 74-yard march with the second-half kickoff with a 13-yard ramble that provided a 28-14 edge.
“The first drive in the second half was huge,” Minton said. “That made it a two-score game, and it looked like we were going to go up by three scores but they made a big play.”
That came on the next-to-last play of the third period when freshman quarterback Tyler O’Con was picked off at the Gator 9 by linebacker Camp Juneau, his only mistake in a 6-of-7 passing night in replacing Byrne.
After two first downs, AES went for a fourth-and-eight near midfield and Arceneaux hit a streaking Ronquillo for the 53-yard touchdown.
“I was proud of our fight,” Desormeaux said. “The fourth quarter is our quarter, and I felt like we were going to go in and score if we could get the ball back.”
Arceneaux’s first strike to Ducote had tied the game with 1:01 left in the first period, but Eagle wide out Jalen Johnson took the ensuing kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown for a 14-7 lead. Two plays later, Gator running back Ja’Ceiry Linzer fumbled and Charlie Solar recovered for CCMC at the AES 17, but Guarisco was picked off by Noah Dodson on the next play.
Dodson returned the interception 84 yards before Guarisco ran him down at the Eagle 4, but Arceneaux scored on a keeper on the first play of the second period to tie it at 14. However, Central Catholic went on its 77-yard march and Guarisco’s second score gave the Eagles the lead for good with 4:33 left before halftime.