MESA - The first losing season of this century for the powehouse Centennial football program ended in a manner that seems foreign but has become all too familiar in 2021.
In the Nov. 19 6A playoff game at #4 Mesa Red Mountain, Centennial was competitive throughout. But the timing and spot of a crucial unforced turnover and a penalty led directly to touchdowns.
The second of those touchdowns gave the Mountain Lions a 20-19 lead seconds from the end of the third quarter. #13 Centennial (3-8) could not get past midfield in three fourth quarter drives and fell by that same score.
"Our kids played really hard. I'm proud of them. We would have liked to have one more game with our seniors," Centennial coach Richard Taylor said. "But it is over and I told them that the whole team became better men this year. A lot of times you learn a lot more about yourself and who you are in losses than you do in wins."
Despite Red Mountain (10-2) entering with a far better record and seed, the game on the field was evenly matched from the beginning and Centennial came out physical. The Coyotes forced a fumble on the opening kickoff and Red Mountain recovered at its 36.
So Centennial forced a fumble after a reception on the Mountain Lions' first play from scrimmage and senior Javari Hester fell on it at the Red Mountain 41.
Junior quarterback Steven Urquiza made his first start in his third week back from a collarbone injury, and hit junior tight end Willie Paris for 27 yard. The offense bogged down at the 9 and junior kicker Brysen Gardner hit a 27-yard field goal for a 3-0.
"I was really proud of the way they practiced this week and the way they played tonight," Taylor said.
But a familar problem this season, a botched quarterback-running back exchange without contact from the defense, bit the Coyotes again. Red Mountain senior linebacker recovered the fumble at the Coyotes' 25.
Three plays later junior slotback Lenox Lawson scored a 5-yard touchdown. The Mountain Lions lead 6-3 following a missed extra point.
#WestValleyPreps Again an unforced mistake crushes Coyotes hopes. Botched handoff on third down play . Skylar Edmonds recovers and advances to the Coyotes’ 25. Three plays later Lenox Lawson scores on this 5-yard run. XP doink. 6-3 @RedMtnFootball 2:55 first #AZPreps365 pic.twitter.com/jeIwSDIZhK— Richard Smith (@RsmithYWV) November 20, 2021
The lead lasted less than two minutes, mainly because Centennial junior running back Kavaughn Clark got a crease. Clark burst into the open field for a 53-yard run, then burrowed in from the 1 on the next play.
Centennial tried for two out of a kicking setup and failed, but led 9-6 with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
"We knew they wanted to come over here and run the rock. They're big up front and have good running backs," Red Mountain senior linebacker Parker McClure said. "They busted a few of them early on us. We weren't really gap sound. How they were running, and we kind of knew they were going to do it to, was they were going to bounce it, they weren't going to run much north and south. Early on everybody was trying to run around and make plays."
Aided by a Centennial personal foul, Red Mountain covered 79 yards in four plays and just more than a minute. Lawson got to the outside and dashed 49 yards for a touchdown and a 13-9 lead.
That was the first play of the second quarter and things settled down until the final four minutes, when Centennial sophomore safety Iverson Small read junior quarterback Carter Crispin's eyes and picked him off by leaping to grab it and getting one foot in bound.
Starting at its own 49, Centennial again turned to Clark and he raced into the red zone with a 33-yard run. On third and 1 at the Red Mountain 8, sophomore receiver Noah Carter lined up in the shotgun but could not handle a snap that sailed toward his left hand.
The Coyotes recovered on the 16 and settled for a 33-yard Gardner field goal with 1:46 left in the half. The Mountain Lions kept it on the ground and preserved a 13-12 halftime lead.
"I think we did pretty well in the trenches. Everything went pretty well except we could not get the quarterback down. We could not sack him," Taylor said.
Clark fielded the opening kickoff of the second half at his 20 and navigated traffic to return it 55 yards to the Mountain Lions' 25.
On third and seven, Urquiza scrambled away from the rush and turned up the sideline, lunging into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown and 19-13 Centennial lead early in the third quarter.
#WestValleyPreps #AZPreps365 @kavaughn_clark returns the opening kickoff of the second half 55 yards to the Red Mountain 25. On third down @steven_urquiza scrambles and lunges in for the 12 yard touchdown. 19-13 @Cehsfootball 9:33 third quarter pic.twitter.com/VIm1joKVqn— Richard Smith (@RsmithYWV) November 20, 2021
The kickoff return was Clark's last explosive play of the night. He ran for 92 yards on eight first half carries but finished the night with 109 yards on 15 attempts.
"Once you settle down and you're gap sound, when he bounces it you can force him to the sideline. That what we did in the second half. We were disciplined," McClure said.
Penalties compromised the Coyotes the rest of the night. Red Mountain drove into the red zone midway through the third quarter on the back of face mask and pass interference penalties - plus Crispin heating up.
Sophomore cornerback Kenneth Worthy III gave the visitors a brief reprieve by picking off Crispin in the end zone. But the Coyotes gained only one yard before punting it back and junior receiver Ja'Kobi Lane returned it to the Centennial 27.
Again the defense held up in the red zone. Junior linebacker Braxton Manusina stuffed Lawson for a two-yard loss on third and 1 at the 8.
Junior Shekaina Rigrish attempted and made a 25-yard field goal. However, a roughing the kicker call caused the Mountain Lions to take the points off the board since it was now first and goal on the 4.
"They called roughing the kicker. We looked at it on the film and their guy just pushed ours into the kicker. All they saw was the contact at the end," Taylor said.
Two plays later Lane ran a quick slant and caught a 2-yard touchdown. Rigrish kicked the go-ahead extra point with 9.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
A chop block put Centennial behind the chains early in the fourth, and the Coyotes punted. Red Mountain took over on its 39 and embarked on a time-consuming drive.
It included a 17-yard pass to the 6-5 Lane, who had five of his six receptions for44 of his 54 yards in the second half. A missed field goal gave Centennial another chance with 3:57 remaining.
McClure batted down Urquiza's fourth down pass from the Centennial 27. Red Mountain took over with 2:38 left and ran off all but the final 14.7 seconds.
Centennial got to its 41 and tried a desperation multi-lateral play that ended up losing yards. As the last Coyote to touch the ball was forced out of bounds on the Centennial sidelines another Red Mountain defender threw a second Coyote down, triggering a postgame brawl.
Police on the sidelines helped separate the players and only a couple coaches took part in the postgame handshake.
"Our kids pretty much stayed back and there must have been 15 kids that came running across. When they look at that film, I'm afraid they're going to be in trouble next week, with some kids ejected," Taylor said.
Most of the people associated with the Centennial program have no frame of reference for a season like this. Since 2005 the Coyotes have seven state titles and 11 state finals appearances.
But Taylor built built this program from the ground up since 1990 and kept pushing through some early rough seasons. After the game Nov. 19, he sounded determined to re-establish the Coyotes in 2022.
"We've got younger kids that are pretty athletic that I believe have grown up a lot. We have a lot of sophomores that you might even say were stars, and juniors. There's things we need to clean up. We need to be better teammates and listen better," Taylor said. "It was difficult to lose eight games in one season. We're not used to that. We've got to do a better job as coaches. And they've got to do a better job of listening. I think if that happens, we could make a big turnaround next year."
#WestValleyPreps #AZPreps365 After calling it’s final time out and a @RedMtnFootball time out @Cehsfootball must go on 4th and 3 at its own 27, It’s batted down. 2:38 remaining pic.twitter.com/7hcX0xKPtB— Richard Smith (@RsmithYWV) November 20, 2021
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