Semifinal appearance marks Centennial High’s D-I debut


You can never predict what is going to happen when high school football teams get into the playoffs.  But one thing that is certain this year: there won’t be a rematch between Chandler High and Hamilton High in the championship game.

Centennial took care of that by beating Hamilton in the quarterfinals and will take on Mountain Pointe High School in the semifinals Friday night at Desert Vista High School.

Yes, this is the same Centennial High School that moved up from Division II this season and was expected to take some time before it could ramp up to take on the big boys in the state’s top division – even though the Coyotes won the D-II state title last year.

They couldn’t have made a bigger statement than beating the state’s perennial power.  The Hamilton Huskies, ranked No. 2 in Division I and seeded third in the state tourney, were beaten in the state final last season by Chandler and lost the title game to Mountain Pointe the year before, but are always in the title discussion each season.  They have claimed seven state titles over the last 12 years, including three consecutive championships from 2008-2010.

This year they won’t have to worry about finishing runner-up again; they aren’t going to get another shot at the title.

Centennial was perhaps overlooked going into the post-season, given a No. 6 seed for the state tourney.  They lost three games in the regular season, but that’s a deceiving stat.  The Coyotes traveled to California for their season-opener to take on Long Beach Poly, one of that state’s power teams, and lost that game by one point. They lost to Liberty High, also by one point, and were beaten by Hamilton in mid-season – by a single score.  The total margin in those three losses was nine points.

And that made last Friday’s 34-23 victory over Hamilton all the sweeter because it made up for that earlier loss to the Huskies.

Perhaps the Huskies were living on borrowed time in the playoffs.  They beat No. 14 seed Perry High, 27-10, in their first-round game, but had to come from behind and outscore the Pumas 24-0 in the second half to secure the win.

Centennial is averaging 231 rushing yards per game behind one of the best offensive lines in the state, and senior quarterback Isaac Steele is throwing for another 144 yards each game.  Senior running back Quentin Gomez is averaging just over seven yards a carry and has accumulated 1,152 yards this season.

The Coyotes will take on 2013 state champion Mountain Pointe High School for a chance to move on to play the winner of the other semifinal game between top-seed Chandler and No. 4 Desert Ridge High for the state championship.

Mountain Pointe, 12-0 and seeded second in the playoffs, earned its spot in the semis by beating Brophy Prep in a quarterfinal game that went down to the final play before the Pride pulled out the 35-31 win.  It took an interception in the end zone by junior safety Isaiah Pola-Mao on the last play of the game to wrap up the victory.

Like Centennial, Mountain Pointe will bring a balanced attack to Friday night’s encounter.  The Pride averages 261 yards on the ground and 164 through the air, as 6’1″ senior QB Jack Smith could reach the 2,000-yard passing plateau against Centennial.  He has 1,858 yards so far and is averaging 155 a game.

But Smith is also a running threat.  He joins with senior running back Macarius Blount to form a punishing tandem in the back field.  Smith has run for 916 yards this season and Blount has piled up another 1,664 yards that averages out to 139 per game.

If Chandler gets past Desert Ridge, either of these teams is going to pose a formidable threat to Chandler’s attempt to repeat as state champion.