Centennial football loses, but shows strength of AZ teams

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                </div>  A loss is a loss, no matter how close the final score.  And a reigning Arizona state champion will begin the 2015 season 0-1 – with the potential of […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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A loss is a loss, no matter how close the final score.  And a reigning Arizona state champion will begin the 2015 season 0-1 – with the potential of that ballooning to 0-2 as Centennial High School begins preparation for next week’s game with Saguaro High, the No. 1-ranked team in Div. II.

Last night’s 13-12 loss to California power Long Beach Poly in the season opener really hurt after all the pre-game hype that had built up for the game and the packed house of enthusiastic fans who showed up to cheer for an upset.  This was a big game for both teams, one that probably would have been picked up by ESPN for national telecast if it had not come a week before the sports network was prepared to begin its high school coverage.

But losing to the Jackrabbits is no disgrace.

Peoria’s Centennial, which won the state title last year when it was still playing in Division II, was just the first of three state champions on Poly’s schedule this year.  The Jackrabbits will also play Nevada state champion Bishop Gorman High School and California state champ De La Salle High.

The school thrives on big challenges as second-year head coach Antonio Pierce attempts to raise the school’s national profile even higher, and this year they have arguably the toughest non-league schedule in the country.

And playing on the road, as they did against Centennial, doesn’t create the problems it does for most schools; Poly only has three homes games all season.  The players like to refer to themselves as ‘road warriors.’

But it looked like this would be a good time to catch the Jackrabbits, who won four state titles and 11 league championships in the last 10 seasons, in a down year when the roster is young and untested.  They are coming off an 11-2 season, but had to replace their starting quarterback, top running back, and virtually all of the primary receivers, with the exception of senior wide receiver Jack Jones who is considering various college scholarship offers.  They have a dozen players on this year’s roster who will be playing for Division I colleges next season.

Centennial, which piled up four state titles of its own over the last 10 seasons, had to take a step up to Division I this year, but has plenty of offensive power returning from last year’s squad.

Twelve points isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, but it was very nearly enough to take down one of the better teams in the country in a tight game highlighted by aggressive defensive play on both sides.

Centennial scored first to take a 6-0 lead into halftime, and then regained the lead again in the final quarter before allowing Poly to score the winning touchdown with 6:47 left in the game.

A punt return by senior David McGriff put the Coyotes at Poly’s 18-yard line, and four plays later quarterback Isaac Steele punched the first score of the game across the goal line.  A failed point-after attempt left Centennial with a 6-0 lead.  Their other score came with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter on a bootleg play by Steele that enabled him to score from 11 yards out.  The two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

That 12-7 lead was erased less than four minutes later when the Jackrabbits scored on a 12-yard run.

This was a game born out of desperation.  Last spring, Centennial was only able to fill one of two open slots in its schedule by adding Saguaro, but needed one more game.  Long Beach Poly was also finding it hard to round out its non-conference schedule since few schools in California were willing to take on a national power.

Poly agreed to travel if they played at a neutral site, which became Glendale Community College.  Game on.

Whether Centennial head coach Richard Taylor now regrets that decision is anybody’s guess.  He’s probably too busy looking ahead to his next big challenge, Thursday’s meeting with Scottsdale power Saguaro.