In what could be a preview of this year’s Open Division state playoffs, Centennial High School will open its season on Sept. 3 against two-time defending Open Division champ, Chandler High.
The last two seasons, Centennial earned a spot among the eight teams that compete in the Open Division playoffs, a format that enables head-to-head competition among the best teams from across 6A, 5A, and 4A conferences.
But the Coyotes have been unable to get past the first round — but have come very close. In 2019, the first year the Open Division was formed, Centennial lost the first time to Hamilton High by nine points, and last year the Peoria school dropped a heartbreaker to Liberty HS, 25-24.
Centennial is really motivated to get over that hump this season. And it’s better equipped than last year to make a run to the title game.
Last year, Chandler rolled to a 31-7 victory over the Coyotes in the fifth game on the schedule. But Centennial had lost its starting quarterback to COVID issues and sophomore Austin Glimpse stepped in to begin his prep career in a most challenging way.
Glimpse went on to play in some big games the rest of the way to get additional experience. Now he is a seasoned junior, bigger and stronger, and ready for the rematch.
He will be working alongside a couple of running backs that will provide the Coyotes with a power ground game. Kavaughn Clark was just a freshman last year when he ran for 968 yards and 11 touchdowns over a nine-game schedule. James Scott, now a junior, teamed up with Clark, contributing eight touchdowns and collecting 589 yards. They’re both powerfully built to give the Coyotes a pounding ground game.
Centennial is poised for a deep run in the playoffs. The Coyotes went 14-1 in 2018, 9-2 in 2019, and 6-3 last season. However, the three losses were to Chandler, which won the Open Division; Hamilton, which played the Wolves for the title; and Liberty, which lost to Chandler in the semifinals.
Over the past 15 seasons, Centennial has won seven state titles, the last one as the 5A champion in 2018, before moving up to play in the two Open Division brackets. It’s a program that knows how to win, and win often.
But they will be opening against a Chandler team that is ranked No. 19 in the MaxPreps preseason national poll. A team that has not lost a game since August of 2018, a 36-game winning streak. A team that is returning seven starters from a squad that went undefeated last year.
Prior to winning the last two (and only) Open Division championships, the Wolves were coming off three straight 6A conference titles.
But, if there’s a good time to take on the Wolves, this might be the time. Chandler will be starting a new quarterback this season following the departure of Mikey Keene. Keene departed in the spring to begin his college career at Central Florida after leading the Wolves to consecutive unbeaten seasons his last two years as Chandler’s starting QB.
But a program like Chandler’s attracts top talent. Coach Rick Garretson has three out-of-state transfers from which to choose to replace Keene: Kenneth Cooper (Texas), Ethan Moore (California), and Blaine Hipa (Hawaii) .
And Chandler is so deep in D-I talent at every other position that breaking in a new quarterback probably won’t cause much of a ripple.
Some team will eventually break Chandler’s three-year-old win streak.
We’ll soon see if Centennial is up to that challenge.