West Valley Preps
Last year is last year.
And in this case, the good vibes of a dominant 2018 season lasted about five minutes into the 2019 Centennial football campaign. After grabbing a 13-0 lead, the home team was in a fight for survival against a resilient Queen Creek Casteel team that did not care about the Coyotes’ history or hype.
The Colts trailed 34-27 and drove to the Centennial 29 with less than a minute remaining. On third and 10, senior defensive tackle Xavier Garcia pressured junior quarterback Dane Christensen into an 11-yard sack by senior linebacker Matt Hernandez.
Christensen’s deep ball on fourth and 21 bounced just short and the two-time defending 5A state champion survived a tougher test than it received all of last season.
“On defense we had seven guys starting their first game. They’re going to get better and it’s our job to get them better. There’s not too many teams that have scored that many points on us like that. The offense saved the bacon,” Centennial coach Richard Taylor said. “If I know the defensive coaches, it’s going to get straightened up right quick.”
Centennial (1-0) pulled out the victory in part because its star, senior tailback/safety Jaydin Young, met the moment. He weaved his way for 32 yards on the first play from scrimmage and finished the night with 10 carries for 90 yards and three touchdowns.
Young ran off tackle for an 11-yard score and 13-0 lead. A 14-yard second quarter touchdown where the senior turned his shoulders to slip through a tiny crack restored a 20-7 lead with 1:59 until halftime.
Casteel (0-1) battled back, as it would all night. A big kickoff return set up the Colts at midfield and a targeting call on Centennial wiped out junior Rashon Adams’ interception and moved the ball to the Coyotes’ 29.
“I’m proud of my guys and the fight in them. They worked for each other. They don’t back down and they’re a very positive group,” Casteel coach Bobby Newcombe said.
Five seconds before the hale, senior quarterback Benjamin Blancas rolled out and hit junior Isaiah Newcombe for a five-yard touchdown toss. A missed extra point left the Coyotes halftime advantage at 7 (20-13).
Most of the offseason chatter surrounding Casteel was about who left – be it the school’s first graduating class or a handful of 2018 players that transferred to other East Valley schools.
In week one, Arizona learned the remaining Colts can play a little football.
“Who was that quarterback (Blancas)? We did not prepare for that at all. I thought Casteel was extremely well prepared. They played very hard down two touchdowns. They got the momentum back,” Taylor said.
Two unheralded seniors in particular gave the Centennial defense fits.
Slot receiver Grady Burns broke open over the middle all night, catching 11 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. His 14-yard scoring toss from Christensen on a wheel route drew the visitors within a touchdown with 3:20 left in the game.
“I knew Grady was a phenomenal athlete when I first saw him three years ago. He finally started getting the opportunities. He’s a team player with phenomenal skill who makes people miss in space. He’s committed to making plays for his team,” Newcombe said.
Blancas did not start at quarterback or running back but was the most dangerous Colt in both capacities.
Often he would line up in the backfield next to Christensen. But on some plays Christiansen flanked out and Blancas took the direct snap out and took off. He scored Casteel’s first touchdown this way, with ease, from 28 yards out.
Sometimes he acted more like a conventional spread quarterback. And on a couple snaps Blancas took a halfback option pitch or backwards pass and found an open receiver downfield – like the Colts’ third touchdown, an eight-yarder to Burns, to draw within 27-20.
“Brian Whitacre did a great job. We’re fortunate to have two – I think – Division I quarterbacks. And they play off each other,” Newcombe said. “Dain’s our guy but Ben knows he’s going to be in there playing quarterback, playing different positions and using his athleticism.”
Blancas finished with 87 yards on 16 carries and the two touchdown passes on seven attempts. Christiensen threw for 156 yards.
Some new Centennial varsity players stepped up to maintain the lead in the second half. Junior defensive end DJ Gleash sacked Christiensen in the third and forced a fumble that senior defensive tackle Andy Belmontez recovered on his own 34.
Two plays later sophomore tailback James Scott took his first varsity handoff, cut back in an arc across the field and dashed 67 yards for the score and a 27-13 lead. It reminded Taylor of Coyote legend Jalen Ortiz, who burst 83 yards for a score on his first carry against Chandler in 2010.
“We did want to put James out there in the beginning, thinking it was better for him to watch what was going on. He sure got the feel. I thought he ran the ball hard and protected the ball. He gave us a lift when we needed it,” Taylor said.
But that did not put the Colts away, nor did Young’s third touchdown. He scored from 11 yards out with 7:37 left in the game.
Burns scored and the Colts gained momentum on their final drive with a double pass – Christiensen to Blancas to senior receiver Colin Gapen for 29 yards.
The defense rose up late. But they will have a full two weeks preparing for two-time defending MaxPreps national champion Santa Anna (Calif.) Mater Dei, who visits Peoria Sept. 6.
“We were running enough, but we were not running hard enough. They know now cramping is no fun – when we do conditioning, we’re going to have to run harder. We have to get faster at certain positions. There were of guys that got in there defensively that played well,” Taylor said. “And it is our job to teach them, encourage them and prepare them.”