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Best receiver group in Oregon? Central Catholic’s corps makes its case in beating Tualatin

“We push each other to be the best athletes we can be”
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There’s no doubt about it — it’s a talented group. 

But there’s much more to it than that. 

It’s a hard-working group.

It’s a deep group. It’s a tight-knit group.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s the best group of receivers/tight ends in Oregon high school football.

The Central Catholic receiving corps think so, at least.

“I would say so,” Central Catholic junior receiver Zhaiel Smith said with a smile following the Rams’ 44-21 win over Tualatin in the Class 6A state championship game Friday at Hillsboro Stadium.

Zhaiel Smith Central Catholic Dan Brood 3

“It’s the best in the state,” Central Catholic senior receiver Niko May said. “We come out and ball when we get the opportunities. It’s great.”

“I think we’re pretty good. We like to consider ourselves the best in the state,” Central Catholic junior receiver Landon Kelsey added. “We get pushed by our (defensive backs) in practice. That’s where the best competition is. We make each other better, big time.”

It could be hard to argue with the Rams’ receivers after the group’s performance in the title game, when Central Catholic passed for 349 yards and two touchdowns in claiming the team’s second state championship in the past three years.

“This means a lot,” May said. “One thing that Coach (Steve) Pyne was talking about this week is that we’ve put in over 350 hours of work from over the summer until now, so to finally see all this work pay off is just amazing.”

Niko May Central Catholic Dan Brood 1

“We worked really hard for this,” Kelsey said. “I know the seniors wanted to go out with a state championship. I think we were all playing for each other, instead of ourselves. Our coach said, ‘You have to act like a champion before you become a champion.’ That’s what we did.”

In Friday’s title tilt, the Rams were facing a Tualatin squad that also possessed an explosive group of receivers in seniors Jayden Fortier, AJ Noland and Kenen Elder. But Central Catholic countered that terrific trio with its deep group of receivers that includes Kelsey, May, Smith, senior Tommy Pempel, senior Pomer Davison, senior Ty Jones and junior D’Marieon Gates as well as senior tight end Dexter Foster and sophomore tight end Andreas Nicolaidis.

“We’re a great group,” Smith said. “We all make each other better with everything that we do. Our DBs make us better. We’re just good as a team. We all have a great chemistry. We’re tight friends. We work with each other all offseason.”

That ‘great group’ of receivers and tight ends sure seemed to come to play in the championship contest. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Kelsey had a huge game for the Rams, pulling in four passes for a game-high 138 yards. Kelsey also teamed with senior quarterback Cru Newman on a 50-yard touchdown pass which gave the Rams their first lead, 28-21, with 1 minute and 2 seconds before halftime.

“I ran a post, and it was there,” Kelsey said of the play. “I caught it and I didn’t see anyone in front of me. That felt really good.”

Landon Kelsey Central Catholic Dan Brood 1

Smith also had a strong performance with a team-high six catches for 56 yards.

“When Cru throws the ball, I know I have to make a play, so that’s what I did,” Smith said.

Davison had a 30-yard catch, moving the ball to the Tualatin 1-yard line late in the first quarter, leading to a 1-yard touchdown run by Newman.

Nicolaidis had a 51-yard reception down the left sideline, setting up a 5-yard touchdown run by sophomore Tyson Davis. He also had a 12-yard catch, moving the ball to the 2-yard line, with Foster scoring on a pass from Tyson Davis on the next play.

Yes, it was a big day for the Central Catholic receivers, but what makes them so strong as a group?

“I feel we’re very tight-knit,” May said. “We all have a bond with each other and a bond with our quarterback. Everything just flows. We push each other to be the best athletes we can be.”

Dexter Foster Central Catholic Dan Brood 1

And probably no one appreciates that more than Newman.

“Oh, they’re amazing,” the quarterback said of his receivers. “They’ve been great all year. The chemistry isn’t just on the field, it’s off the field as well. They’re great. They all get along together. They bond with each other, and I’m super proud of those guys. Their attitudes have been amazing.”

Those receivers, with the amazing attitudes, were happily celebrating with their teammates following the win over the Timberwolves.

“It means a lot,” Smith said. “I want to thank God — he blessed us with our teammates. We wanted the seniors to go out with a bang, and that’s what we did. We executed. This was super fun. I can’t wait to be here next year — hopefully.”

More from the 6A final:

Central Catholic wins another crown as injuries, Cru Newman too much for Tualatin to overcome

For Tualatin, what-if finish doesn’t diminish another special season: ‘I love my guys forever’

Central Catholic tops Tualatin in Oregon 6A football final: Photos

Rebuilt lines a key reason for Central Catholic’s run to 6A championship game

Tale of the tape: Who has the edge between Central Catholic and Tualatin in the Oregon 6A football final?