Centennial is AZ’s last chance at nat’l football recognition


Arizona high school football gets one more chance to show it can compete on the national stage.  That happens tonight when Centennial High School plays host to the No. 3-ranked prep team in the nation.

Centennial is the fourth Arizona team to play in high-profile games against teams with a national reputation.  The earlier opportunities didn’t end so well for the local boys.

Tonight’s game with St. Thomas Aquinas High School from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will pack the stands in Peoria since Centennial fans have circled this date on the calendar, waiting for the chance to see how their Coyotes match up against a national power.

But the host Coyotes will be a huge underdog in this one.

(*Update: Centennial pulled off a stunning 12-0 upset of St. Thomas Aquinas with an impressive defensive performance that held the Raiders to 165 total yards of offense.  Zidane Thomas provided six points with a 56-yard run and Xavier Rojas added a couple of field goals.)

There are three high school football programs in Arizona with national rankings.  Centennial is not one of them.

Chandler HS, the defending 6A state champion, is the No. 10-ranked team in the USA Today Top 25 and also ranked No. 46 in the High School Football America Top 100.  Mountain Pointe HS is No. 46 on the HSFA list and Saguaro HS made the cut at No. 97.

All three of those teams have taken their shot at knocking off top teams from outside the Arizona borders.  None have been successful.

Chandler bit off the biggest challenge by taking on IMG Academy, a prep ‘football factory’ in Bradenton, Fla., that is a pipeline for the SEC teams.  IMG was ranked No. 7 nationally at the time and is currently No. 2 in the USA Today rankings and No. 3 on the HSFA list.

The roster for the IMG football program has players from all over the country, including 11 of the state’s top 50 college prospects.  The program has two varsity teams because the “A” team, which came to Chandler for the Aug. 26 game, isn’t allowed to play in the state playoffs.

The Wolves, who have been scheduling games with nationally-ranked teams in recent years, fell behind 13-7 in the first half before losing starting quarterback Jacob Conover to a shoulder injury just before going into the locker room at halftime.  IMG stretched the lead in the second half to 27-7 before the Wolves were able to add one last score in the 27-14 loss that was carried on national television.

Mountain Pointe has also begun searching outside Arizona for quality opponents and has played four games against out-of-state teams in the last three years, and has won them all.  Until the last day in August.

That’s when the Pride traveled to California to play Chaminade High in the Under Armour Brothers in Arms Classic.  The California power put the Mountain Pointe defense back on its hills by scoring on a 77-yard touchdown catch on the third play from scrimmage and went on to a 36-24 victory.

Scottsdale’s Saguaro High is also beginning to beef up its schedule by competing outside its borders.  Last year, the Sabercats got an early test by taking on, and beating, a couple of top California teams.  That provided the impetus for an undefeated season ranked among the top 25 teams in the country.

But this season was a different story.  Saguaro turned to a couple of new states to test their skills, and wound up with the only two losses on its record this season.  The Sabercats lost to Liberty High School of Henderson, Nev., and then to East High in Salt Lake City, Utah, by a combined score of 86-34.

So Centennial gets its chance at the big boys tonight.  The Coyotes are 5-0 and averaging 40 points a game.  After shutting out their first three opponents, their only real test so far came two weeks ago against Pinnacle High School when it took a 28-yard field goal with six seconds left on the clock to stay undefeated.

A 45-14 victory over winless Westview High last week did little to help them prepare for the national power they face in tonight’s contest.

Unfortunately, Arizona’s last chance to rack up a win on the national stage doesn’t look good.