West Valley Preps
PEORIA — Nationally-ranked prep football powerhouses are quickly learning that playing at Centennial High School is a lot more than they bargained for.
Using a masterful defensive game plan executed to near perfection and just enough offensive ground attack from senior Tawee Walker, the Centennial Coyotes outlasted the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman Gaels 13-7 on Friday night in an interstate old-school defensive slugfest.
“The defensive coaches prepared so hard for this game,” said Coyotes Head Coach Richard Taylor. “And our players responded. I am very proud of my team and the way they fought to get this victory. Our defense put up a heck of a battle against a very talented Gorman team.”
The win propels defending 5A champ Centennial to 2-0 on the 2018 season. Gorman, ranked 26th in the latest MaxPreps national poll after a 42-0 beatdown at the hands of Mater Dei last week, fell to 0-2 — the first 0-2 start for the Gaels since 2005.
Gorman — 9-time defending Nevada 5A champions riding a 97-game winning streak against Nevada schools — also lost for just the 10th time overall in its past 137 games during which they claimed three national titles.
Walker, a standout at Nevada’s Class 3A Mojave before transferring to Centennial for his senior year, led the offensive charge with 113 yards on the ground and two rushing scores.
“It means a lot to beat Gorman — they beat me badly my freshman year,” said Walker, who knows several Gorman players personally. “Our coaches got us prepared and we watched a lot of film leading up to this game. It really paid off — I was able to make some big plays.”
Senior all-state center Carson Keltner was beaming after the 6-point win. He had this game circled on his calendar.
“This is huge for us to beat a powerhouse like Bishop Gorman,” Keltner explained. “The sky’s the limit for this team.”
The Coyotes’ defense, flying around the field all night, held Gorman scoreless until nine seconds of were left in the game. That didn’t tarnish the defensive effort for senior linebacker Dylan Wampler.
“That’s an amazing team over there. But we gave everything we had tonight,” Wampler said.
Time and time again when the Gaels threatened to score, Centennial’s defense had an answer by creating a turnover or making a fourth-down stop. Centennial forced three turnovers — recovering a fumble and nabbing two interceptions.
A scoreless first half still had plenty of memorable moments.
The Coyotes failed on two fourth-down conversions around the Gaels’ 30 yard line, but the Centennial defense similarly forced a turnover on downs after Gorman drove to the Centennial 23 as the second quarter began. With 5:22 left in the half, Gorman QB Micah Bowens found receiver Rome Odunze for a big gain down the sideline. Centennial’s Kieran Clark stripped the football from Odunze inside the 20 and Walker picked it up and scampered the other way.
The Coyotes’ Jeiel Stark then caught a 44-yard pass from Centennial QB Jonathan Morris (11-for-24, 120 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT), but the Coyotes were turned away on fourth down again as Walker was corralled for no gain by the Gorman defense inside the 15 yard line.
Centennial’s A.J. Jackson mishandled a punt but the game remained 0-0 at the half after Gorman kicker Dylan Hamika banged a 25-yard field goal attempt off the right upright as time ran out. The Coyote defense held Gorman to 72 total yards in the first half but Centennial had just 123 yards of its own.
In the third quarter, defense led to offense for the Coyotes. Bowens (249 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) overthrew his receiver and Centennial’s Jaydin Young accepted the gift, grabbing an INT and taking the ball into Gorman territory. Two plays later, Walker darted up the middle and broke a tackle for a 24-yard rushing TD. The extra point was wide right but Centennial led 6-0 with 6:30 left in the third.
Four minutes later, Gorman drove to the Coyotes’ 2 but the defense stood tall again, forcing a fourth-down incompletion from Bowens to keep Gorman off the scoreboard.
“We made some big plays in the red zone,” Taylor noted.
The Coyotes punted on their next series and Gorman again put the pressure on. The Gaels took the ball inside the 5 and appeared to be ready to tie the game. But as they had all night, the Coyote defense rose to the occasion in the shadow of their own goal posts.
Two rushing plays took the ball to the 1. On third and goal, Gorman was stuffed and suffered a catastrophic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball back to the 16 yard line.
On fourth down, Bowens’ heave over the middle was easily picked off by Wampler.
“In the timeout, my coach told me to drop back across the middle. The ball came right to me,” Wampler said of his interception.
All that was left was the clinching score and the Coyotes called on their physical backs and offensive line. Using a steady diet of Walker, Stark and Marc Jacob, Centennial moved the ball to the Gaels’ 21. After two more crucial Gorman penalties, Walker sealed the deal with a 9-yard TD dash with 1:34 left in the game. Carlos Moran-Esparza’s kick was good and Centennial had a 13-0 lead.
Gorman hurt themselves badly with 67 yards in penalties on the night.
“Our coaches told us to get in there, drive them off the ball and gash their defense,” Keltner explained. “That’s just what we did.”
Walker, now with 5 rushing TDs in two games this season, said he had confidence in Keltner and the offensive line.
“Carson is the best leader I’ve ever seen. He’s like another coach out there,” Walker said.
The Gaels’ first points of the season came on an Odunze 8-yard TD catch with nine seconds left in the game. Odunze caught 6 balls for 120 yards but lost the first-half fumble deep in Coyote territory.
“You have to finish inside the red zone,” Gorman Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Kenny Sanchez told NevadaPreps.com. “That’s the bottom line. You can’t be inside the red zone six times and come away with zero points.”
Sanchez lost for just the fourth time in 47 career games as the Gaels’ head coach. Taylor said Gorman’s next opponent may be in a heap of trouble.
“They (Gorman) are going to explode on somebody. Fortunately, it wasn’t us,” said Taylor, whose 244th career coaching win at Centennial was one of his biggest.
In 2017, Centennial took down another national powerhouse — then No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida. Now the Coyotes have another signature win to add to their resume.
Inexplicably ranked 440th in the nation prior to Friday’s game, Centennial is bound to see a massive rise up the MaxPreps national rankings.
Taylor reminded his players to keep an even keel after the big win. The Coyotes host Vail Cienega at 7 p.m. next Friday.
“We have a game next week and we can’t act like the season is over,” the head coach said. “We need to be humble and continue to work hard.”
For at least one night, the Coyotes relished another big victory that has them again on the national radar.
“It’s a great feeling beating one of the best teams in the nation,” Walker said.
CENTENNIAL 13 BISHOP GORMAN 7
C – 6:30, 3rd: Tawee Walker 24 run (kick failed)
C – 1:34, 4th: Walker 9 run (Carlos Moran-Esparza kick)
BG – :09, 4th: Rome Odunze 8 pass from Micah Bowens (Dylan Hamika kick)