Football Game of the Week 1: Bishop Gorman at Centennial

Centennial senior tailback Tawee Walker stretches the ball out on his way to one of his four touchdowns at Queen Creek Casteel on Aug. 17. [Arianna Grainey/Valley Preps]

WHAT: Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman (0-1) at Centennial (1-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Centennial High School, 14388 N. 79th Ave., Peoria
TV: YurView Arizona (formerly Cox)
VISIT: Valley Preps Saturday morning for a recap of this game. Our second football game of the week, Sunrise Mountain at Liberty, will be previewed in tonight.


RIchard Smith
West Valley Preps

Centennial coaches and players know better than to read too much into their marquee out-of-state opponent’s opening night debacle.

Yes, Las Vegas (Nev.) powerhouse Bishop Gorman was drubbed Aug. 24 by Orange County megalith Santa Ana Mater Dei 42-0.

But no one in the Coyotes camp took that game as a sign of a Gorman downturn. Coach Richard Taylor has seen nights like the Gaels had in his four-decade career.

“Mater Dei had already played a game … and you usually make your biggest improvement from your first to your second,” Taylor said. “Gorman hurt themselves so many times. I think every coach has been in that game where everything went wrong. If you play somebody like Mater Dei and everything goes wrong, they’re going to make you pay. We know they’re going to want to redeem themselves.”

Senior center Carson Keltner said the team has prepared as if Gorman’s opener was an aberration. The Gaels have been a fixture in national high school top 10 rankings for most of the last five years.

No Coyote knows this better than senior Tawee Walker, who moved in this spring from North Las Vegas. His former team, Mojave High, was in the considerable shadow of Bishop Gorman — along with every Nevada football program save perhaps Henderson Liberty.

“He said Gorman is going to be a big game and Gorman will bring a crowd of people. It should be a fun turnout,” senior cornerback/receiver Kieran Clark said.

Walker is filling Zidane Thomas’ shoes at tailback and getting a similar chance to shine against a kingpin from his former home state. Thomas grew up in Florida before moving to Arizona in junior high, then scored the decisive touchdown against Fort Lauderdale standard-bearer St. Thomas Aquinas.

In his Centennial debut against upstart Queen Creek Casteel, Walker made the decisive plays. He rushed for 77 yards and three touchdowns and took a swing pass 73 yards for another score.An all-new offensive line — other than Keltner — paved the way.

“Everybody is fitting in well as an offensive line and we’re bonding really well. The first game, we had a bit of the errors but we’re cleaning those up in practice,” Keltner said. “I think Tawee Walker fits in our offense ridiculously good. He’s kind of like Zidane but he’s a little more shifty. Jeiel Stark is more of that mobile back that catches the ball.”

Junior left guard George Roeder and sophomore tackles Oscar Abundis Jr. and Caiden Miles remain in place for Gorman, and the offensive line will get a boost Friday.

Its other three-year starter, Jacob Fyffe, should start this week after sitting out the opener to continue healing from an offseason surgery.

“The offensive line was brand new except for Carson. I was really pleased with the way they played. Our two sophomore tackles were starting their first varsity game ever. I saw them before the game and asked if they were nervous. I said, ‘The definition of courage is when you can continue and do what you’re supposed to so even though you are a little nervous,’” Taylor said. “And they played very well for their first varsity game.”

Taylor also was impressed by his three new starting linebackers — seniors Cire Fields, MJ Walker and Dylan Wampler. Only Fields started some last year, and that was in the secondary. Plus, Centennial had to scramble late in the summer when junior D’Angelo Garcia moved to Yuma.

Clark also credited a pair of new starters, senior defensive end Leandre Harris and junior cornerback Eric Haney, with helping to clamp down on the Colts.

“We’re young, we’re talented and athletic. Overall, we’re still the same defense we were a year ago. I think the thing we need to improve on is communication and the speed of the game,” Clark said.

Centennial’s unveiling was not all roses, though.

Leading 42-7 in the fourth quarter, the Coyotes lost several top players to cramps and allowed Casteel two late touchdowns.

“This past game we were cramping a lot. We’ve been conditioning and getting our bodies ready in this extra week,” Keltner said. “Our leaders, when we played Aquinas last year we were star struck. Now we’re calm and know how to deal with these things.”

Coaches and players have emphasized this approach all week, even though the game will be televised by YurView Arizona locally and highlighted by high school football fans throughout the state.

Taylor said once the whistle blows, it’s another football game. But he understands the hoopla.

“This, obviously, is a game that is important to us. We’ve tried to play a nationally-ranked team. It’s nice for our community and neighboring communities. How often do you get to see Gorman, St. Thomas Aquinas or Long Beach Poly? We expect a lot of people coming just to see Gorman. I don’t blame them.”

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