West Valley Preps
TEMPE — They were not about to let off the throttle now.
Centennial football completed the most dominant of its seven championship seasons with one of the most comprehensive performances in the history of the state finals.
The Coyotes asserted their dominance with a 32-point second quarter en route to a 60-7 obliteration of Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep in Saturday’s 5A title game at Sun Devil Stadium.
Even Centennial coach Richard Taylor was not sure he’s seen anything like this team – and the man has seen almost everything in five decades as a football coach.
“2006 may argue (about who was the most dominant). You know, they’re old guys now and they come back and say, ‘Coach, nobody was better than we were, right?’,” Taylor said. “This team played pretty well all year long. We were able to open up the playbook more offensively, defensively and on special teams. Everything that we ask of them coaches would say, ‘I don’t know if they can do that.’ One coach would speak up and say they could. We would try it, put it in and they did that. They accomplished every task we asked of them.”
Yeah, you could say that. Centennial (14-0) defeated Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman – which claimed the Nevada state title Saturday – 13-7 on Aug. 31.
Every other Coyotes game was against a 5A opponent, and seven of those wins came against teams that at least reached the quarterfinals. Centennial outscored its Arizona opponents by a combined total of 611-78.
“I give credit to our coaches, especially to our team captains and our seniors. They kept everybody on even keel and doing what they were supposed to be doing,” Taylor said.
That started early Saturday afternoon. Senior linebacker Eric Fields intercepted senior quarterback Jake Farrell to end the Saints first drive.
Three plays later, junior quarterback Jonathan Morris faked a pass, ran and cut back into open space, going untouched for a 64-yard touchdown.
“Our offense has always known we’re good. Our defense is amazing so it’s hard to overlook them,” Morris said.
And the special teams are no slouch. In that 32-point second quarter, senior A.J. Jackson scored a touchdown in all three phases.
It started with an 88-yard Jackson punt return 22 seconds into the quarter. The most versatile Coyote on a team full of them was a bit surprised at the opportunity.
“Yes and no. Yes because I’ve had a couple good returns over the season and usually teams don’t kick to me. No because (Notre Dame Prep) has some good coverage. And I expect a team that’s made it to the state championship game would have confidence,” Jackson said.
He followed 25 seconds later by jumping a route, picking off Farrell and dashing 35 yards for another score.
That was the theme of this game, as Centennial was prepared for the Saints’ short, timing-based passing offense and ended up with five interceptions.
“Our d-line is great. We knew they were going to force the ball quick. And we were waiting on the go routes,” senior safety/tailback Tawee Walker said.
The Coyotes only had two scoring drives that took more than two minutes. Their longest was a 3:05 “march” finished by Morris’ 20-yard strike to junior receiver Dyelan Miller.
Junior kicker Juaquin Rodriguez added a 22-yard field goal after Notre Dame Prep (13-1) got a stop on third and goal.
“We turned the ball over, special teams plays, touchdowns. When that happens, it gets you away from what you want to do,” Notre Dame Prep coach George Prelock said.
Jackson capped the assault by weaving through the defense for a 24-yard receiving touchdown with 47 seconds until half.
“It means the world. To give my team momentum like that and be that much of a contributor after all the work I put in in the offseason and tearing my meniscus, I didn’t know how this season would go. I’m glad it turned out like this,” Jackson said.
The game was decided at the half, but the second half was a showcase for one of the Coyotes’ more unheralded cogs.
Junior cornerback/receiver Eric Haney had the Coyotes’ final three interceptions after halftime. His first saw Haney break on the ball almost before the receiver and scoot 35 yards for a touchdown and a 46-0 lead.
“Eric Haney is a great player and doesn’t really get the limelight sometimes. But he’s one of the best corners in the state,” senior defensive end Connor Knudsen said.
Then again, Haney probably does not care about the recognition. Perhaps more than any of Taylor’s other six state championship squads, these Coyotes shunned selfishness and willingly shared the wealth.
Most impressively, talented players like Walker (from North Las Vegas Mojave) and Davon Fountain, Frankie Hollingquest and Brad Young (also from Goodyear Millennium) arrived and embraced the program’s ethos from day one.
“The transfers fit right in. Tawee and the guys from Millennium, they’re great guys,” Knudsen said. “They were grateful to be here and we were grateful to have them.”
Walker and Fountain are at the heart of Centennial’s most balanced and team-oriented unit. All season they shared carries with juniors Jaydin Young and Marc Jacob and senior slotback Jeiel Stark.
Walker was the only one of the group to exceed 100 carries – he finished with 107 on the season – and all five backs had at least 50.
Saturday afternoon was more of the same. Walker gained 63 yards on 7 carries, Young had 56 and a third-quarter touchdown on 4 carries, and Fountain added 46 on 4 runs. Thanks to his long early run, Morris led the team in rushing.
“I think the best example of that is our running backs. We’ve got five running backs and some games one guy has it and others it’s another kid. Never once have I heard from them, ‘This isn’t fair. I’m not getting mine. He got more touches than me.’ That never happened,” Taylor said.
Heck, a sixth running back who barely played varsity football all year got in on the fun. Brandon James ended the scoring on a three-yard run.
While Jackson said this team was uniquely dominant, he steered the credit back to the Coyotes coaching staff.
He said he probably watched 10 hours of Notre Dame Prep film and the coaches probably doubled that in the past two weeks.
And long before that, Taylor and his staff showed their players the value of the program’s selfless standards.
“Coach Richard Taylor is one of the best coaches ever. Team, then teammates, then self is something he really preaches. That’s something we’ve seen come to fruition time and time again,” Jackson said.
Future Coyote teams may not be this overwhelming.
But if they are not as dominant, it will not be due to a lack of dedication from the younger players.
“It’s not like I’m nervous. I just have to do whatever I can in the offseason and make sure I get more accurate as a thrower,” Morris said. “Monday we’ll be back in the weight room.”