To use a track & field metaphor, the Centennial High School football team will be taking the baton from Chandler High when it adds one final game to its 2018 season.
Chandler was the team invited to play in the Geico State Champions Bowl Series the last two years. This time it will be Centennial that will represent the state of Arizona against a state champion from another part of the country.
Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Wash., will send a team to make it three different states in three years.
The Coyotes have a tough act to follow. Chandler won both of their appearances in the bowls series, which began in 2014, beating its two opponents by an overall margin of 55 points.
Chandler defeated Valdosta High School from Georgia, a prep ‘football factory’ that was ranked No. 2 nationally at the time, 44-24. Last year, the Wolves destroyed Florida’s Miami Northwestern HS, 55-20, behind a 341-yard passing performance by QB Jacob Conover and 188 yards rushing from DeCarlos Brooks.
This year’s game will be played Dec. 22 at Chandler High. But, as usual, it will be televised nationally on ESPNU, for those who can’t get to the 8:30 p.m. game.
Eastside is Washington’s 3A champion, with this title becoming its third in the last five years. The two years it didn’t win the crown, Eastside finished runner-up.
Chandler was representing the 6A conference the past two years, but Centennial plays in the 5A conference, where it has run up an undefeated record (14-0) and completely dominated Notre Dame Prep in the state championship game. The Coyotes rolled up a 39-0 lead at halftime and didn’t allow NDP, also undefeated entering the game, to score until late in the third quarter as they coasted to a 60-7 win.
This was the second straight title for Centennial and the fourth in the last five years. In addition to a talented roster peppered with scholarship athletes, the program has an experienced coaching staff. Its head coach, Richard Taylor, has taken 11 teams to the state title game and has won seven gold balls.
During Taylor’s tenure, the Centennial program became the first school on record to win back-to-back state titles in two different divisions – in Division II and Division I (now 6A) – since the bracket format in Arizona was developed more than 50 years ago.
The Coyotes have proved they can play at any level. When they stepped up to Division I in 2015, they marched through the schedule of the top conference in the state and claimed the championship with a convincing 28-6 victory over Desert Ridge HS.
Now they have something else to prove. A win against Eastside Catholic would be a win for Arizona.