Eastside Catholic defense turns tables on Centennial in GEICO Bowl

Centennial's Jonathan Morris is sacked by Eastside Catholic's Jaylahn Tuimoloau during a Geico Bowl Series game on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 at Centennial High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Centennial’s offense only had to practice against its defense all year.

In Saturday night’s GEICO Bowl Series game on its home field, it seemed as though the Coyotes were going up against their historically stingy defense – only bigger.

Spearheaded by sophomore defensive tackle Jaylahn Tuimoloau’s five sacks up front and senior safety Andrew Pederson, Sammamish (Wash.) Eastside Catholic shut out the Coyotes 17-0 in the postseason matchup of state champions televised on ESPNU.

“Our defensive line played great. J.T. Tuimoloau, obviously, is a beast. We’re great at corner,” Eastside Catholic coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. “(Peterson) is a great leader. He’s the heart of this team on defense and gets us lined up. He played great tonight.”

Neither team scored in the second half, though both had multiple opportunities in the red zone.

Instead, the two plays that set the game on its course to the inevitable win for the visitors happened well before halftime.

Centennial (14-1) was on its heels early, losing a yard on its opening series and allowing the Crusaders to march down the field. The Coyotes defense got a third-down stop and Eastside Catholic settled for a 27-yard Blake Hall field goal.

The teams traded three-and-outs, but the Crusaders’ stalled after senior A.J. Jackson – one of two Coyotes who stood out on a rough night – pinned them at their 6-yard-line.

“His punting tonight was fantastic. He flipped the field,” Centennial coach Richard Taylor said.

Centennial started at the Crusaders’ 35 after a illegal use of hands penalty on the visitors. Junior quarterback Jonathan Morris tossed a short screen to junior tailback Jaydin Young, who jetted 22 yards.

After senior tailback Tawee Walker gained one yard, Morris rolled right and into pressure. He reversed field and threw the ball away, but he was back in the pocket when he did so, leading to an intentional grounding call.

That set up third and 28 from the Crusaders’ 30. Following an incompletion, junior kicker Juaquin Rodriguez’s 47-yard field goal attempt fell short.

Eastside Catholic (13-1) patiently moved down the field, working the middle zones with screen passes and scrambles by junior quarterback Michael Franklin. It included a 14-yard catch and run to junior tailback Sam Adams.

A 12-yard run by Franklin set up first and goal for the Crusaders just before the opening quarter. Adams took a toss counter for a five-yard touchdown to open the second quarter.

“Our execution surprised me a little bit. They weren’t zipping and zapping as much as I thought they were going to do up front. We were really concerned about their movement. They didn’t move as much as we thought and I thought our size was able to take advantage of that a little bit,” Thielbar said. “There’s a lot of pressure they bring, so you’ve got to throw the quick game and execute quick screens. We wanted to run the ball a little bit better than we did. We were more on today for our state championship game. That’s probably the best game we’ve played overall, all year.”

Trailing 10-0, the clamps remained on the Coyotes offense. Jackson boomed two more punts for 49 and 51 yards.

Franklin took off again on third down, but was stopped a yard short at his own 22. Senior safety Toni Angilau came in to punt.

A rugby-style kicker, Angilau probed the defense while rolling out and decided to run for the sticks. He moved the chains easily with an 8-yard gain.

“It was put in for this game. We have a rugby-style punter and we did not want their punt returner to touch the ball at all,” Thielbar said. “He’s got the option – if it’s inside five yards – to take off. It was his call. I think that was the turning point of the game.”

Two plays later, Franklin went up top and junior Gee Scott Jr. snagged the 40-yard heave. Two more screen passes gained 19 yards for the Crusaders and set up another first-and-goal situation.

Typically a defensive end or backup quarterback, UCLA-bound senior Hayden Harris checked in at tailback and ran for a 4-yard touchdown with 2:50 until halftime.

Centennial’s Jaydin Young runs with the ball during a Geico Bowl Series game against Eastside Catholic (Wash.) on Dec. 22 at Centennial High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]
Centennial ended the first half with a lone first down.

The home team’s defense dug deep in the second half, stiffening in the red zone after Harris connected with Scott for 39 more yards. After throwing junior tailback Gio Ursino for a five-yard loss, the Coyotes stayed alive as senior defensive end Leandre Harris blocked Hall’s 33-yard field goal attempt.

Even that, and Walker’s 13-yard run to spark the drive proved fleeting. Two false start penalties backed the offense up and Eastside Catholic swallowed up Jackson’s fake punt attempt at the Coyotes’ 40.

Though worse for wear – Eastside Catholic ran more than 70 plays on the night – the defense that gave up 85 points in 14 games would not allow a rout.

Led by senior linebacker Dylan Wampler’s 17 tackles, the unit produced another red zone stop by throwing Ursino for a six-yard loss on third down to end the third quarter and forcing a Franklin overthrow to start the fourth.

“There’s a reason the Cardinals chose him as the defensive player of the year and you saw that tonight,” Taylor said. “I usually don’t remember wins, but I remember everything about losses. (The second half defense) will be one positive thing I remember from tonight.”

Immediately the offense hit its one big play, a 66-yard catch and run by junior Eric Haney on a seam route. But with first and goal from the five, the Coyotes were swallowed up by the Crusaders.

Tuimoloau provided the exclamation point, enveloping senior slotback Jeiel Stark for a six-yard loss on fourth and goal.

“Their kids were maybe a little quicker than what I thought on defense. Things we thought we were going to be able to do, we couldn’t do it,” Taylor said. “They didn’t do anything we were not prepared for. They just maybe did it better than what we hoped for. They deserved the victory. They were clearly the better team tonight.”

Morris scrambled for 19 on fourth and 19 in a late-game bid to avoid the Coyotes first shutout since 1997. And a pass interference call in the end zone set Centennial up at the Crusaders’ 13.

But on fourth and two, Eastside Catholic stopped Morris a half-yard short to put a capper on its national coming out party.

“I want us to be on the national scene. Washington football is real. It is tough and hard-nosed. We’re the state champs from Washington and beat the state champs from Arizona. There’s debate about who we should have played and who Washington should have sent. We wanted to represent the state and hoist the trophy  and it’s a massive trophy,” Thielbar said.

After the most dominant of the Coyotes’ seven state championship seasons, the loss – more to the point the manner of the loss – was a bit shocking.

However, the school’s only coach said one bad night in an extra game hardly negates the highs from a special season.

“It was a real honor to be chosen to play in this. Our kids played as hard as they could, sometimes not as well as they could. It was icing on the cake after the state championship game,” Taylor said. “I told them that this didn’t work out like we wanted to tonight but that’s not what I’m going to remember. I’m going to remember the Gorman game. I’m going to remember the senior retreat. I’m going to remember the trip to California and the state championship game. Most importantly I’m going to remember the fun times we had in practice and the things that are funny only to football players. I’m going to remember the kids that really matured a lot and changed for the better.”

Eastside Catholic
Centennial’s Davon Fountain is tackled by Eastside Catholic’s (Wash.) Tohi Angilau during a Geico Bowl Series game on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 at Centennial High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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