It looks like sentiment won out over logic as the azcentral sports preseason rankings were compiled this year.
Casteel High School was given the No. 2 spot in the 5A rankings, which created a match-up of No. 1 vs. No. 2 for Friday’s opener of the 2018 season — at least on paper.
But Casteel’s program is just three years old and putting its first team of seniors on the field. On top of that, it moved up this season two full levels, from 3A to 5A.
A win last night against perennial power Centennial High School would have been a great story, but the Coyotes weren’t about to let it happen. Centennial, the top-ranked team in 5A, rolled up a 35-0 lead and then cruised to a 42-19 victory.
Yes, Casteel dominated the competition the last two years and went undefeated last season on the way to winning the 3A state title. But that was with a different coach. Former Nebraska quarterback Bobby Newcombe has the reins this year and is faced with high expectations following Spencer Stowers‘ success, posting a 23-2 record over the past two seasons.
But was it really fair to expect so much from a new coach, who didn’t take over until mid-summer when Stowers left to take care of family matters? And is it really fair to expect players to be able to match up against teams that are much bigger and faster than anything they’ve experienced in their brief history?
Casteel may well earn the respect as the season goes on to be put among the top of the ranked teams in its conference. But it may take all of this season and even into the next, after which a new reclassification will occur. At that point, they could find themselves jumping another level and really find out what it’s like to play with the big boys in 6A.
But right now, there is a lot that can be learned from Friday’s spirit-crushing loss, played at home to make matters worse.
The Colts now have some confidence that they can score in their new neighborhood. They just need to get started much earlier and count on their defense to keep the game closer in the early going. Senior quarterback Gunner Cruz connected with Zach Nelson 10 times in the fourth quarter, scoring on 15-yard and eight-yard completions. But when you’re carrying a 35-point deficit going into the final period, especially against the top team in the conference, it’s too little, too late.
Centennial rode to victory on the back of one of the best running backs in the state, but the Coyotes have the talent and depth to have still won this game gong away. Tawee Walker, a senior who transferred in this season from Las Vegas, accounted for four touchdowns, including a 73-yard score in the second quarter, running behind a solid offensive line anchored by senior center, Carson Keltner, who is beginning his third season as a starter.
It appears Walker is capable of stepping in to replace much of the offense lost with the graduation of Zidane Thomas, who ran for 2,000 yards last season. And junior quarterback Jonathan Morris, who tossed three touchdown passes last night, is proving to be a worthy successor to Ruben Beltran, who guided the Coyotes to a 14-0 record as a senior.
The idea of back-to-back titles for Casteel, something the Queen Creek community held up as a possibility, has now given way to reality. A still-young, but proud, program may have to put that dream back on the shelf for awhile while it gets up to speed at a new level of competition.
Casteel fans just have to remember that it took Centennial 16 years before that Peoria school won its first big-school state championship in 2006. Since then, the Coyotes have filled their trophy case with six gold balls.
It may not take the Colts that long to prove they belong at this level, but Casteel fans need to be prepared to wait a little longer for that second title.