Centennial was the better team on offense. They were the better team on defense. And they were the better team on special teams.
In beating p e r e n n i a l power Mesa M o u n t a i n View 34-21 in the season opener, the Coyotes opened the 2006 season with a loud, c l e a r statement.
One year removed from a state runner-up finish, the Peoria school is a serious title contender once again.
“We were ready,” senior Warren Johnson said. “Ever since the state title game ended last year, we’ve been preparing for Mountain View. All of the players have been working hard and the coaches did a great job getting us prepared.”
A year ago, the Coyotes went into their season opener with a slew of players making their varsity debuts against a Torros program that is 46-7 during the last four years, including two trips to the state title game.
While they went to the half down 15-13, the game got away from the Coyotes in the second half as Mountain View cruised to a 35-13 win.
Later in the season, one in which Centennial would end up going 11-3, coach Dick Taylor said his team gained a lot of confidence by being able to compete with the Torros in the opener.
Fast forward to the 2006 debut and simply competing wasn’t good enough.
“Last year I don’t think we knew what to expect,” senior defensive lineman Tom Ramsey said. “We were hoping we could win, but I don’t think we were sure. We knew we could win tonight. We’re just so much savvier this year because of the experience we got last year.”
Centennial’s special teams made it presence felt first.
Forced to punt on their opening possession, Centennial’s Austin West high, booming effort from the Mountain View 46 was downed at the Torros 3-yard line by senior Rusty McConnell.
After Mountain View went three and out, the Torros punter was unable to handle the snap. When junior Adam Shipley recovered the ball in the end zone Centennial had drawn first blood.
Later in the quarter a partially blocked punt would set up a second score with junior Jeff Hughes capping a drive with a 3-yard run behind a physical Coyotes line.
Centennial was particularly effective running the ball off the right side where senior right guard Joey Oliver (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and junior tackle Zach Schlink (6-foot-5, 280) mauled a smallish Mountain View front four.
“I thought that was one of the keys to the game the way both our offensive and defensive fronts performed,” Taylor said.
While the special teams starred in the first quarter, the second quarter belonged to the offense.
Though Mountain View would eventually find their bearings offensively, Centennial’s attack wouldn’t yield the lead.
Perhaps the play of the game came on a fourth-andseven from the Mountain View 37. With more than eight minutes remaining in the first half, and a 14-7 lead, Taylor elected to roll the dice rather than play it safe and punt.
“It felt like the momentum was definitely swinging in their favor so it was a big play. I made the mistake of asking Kyle (Pooler, the offensive coordinator) if he had a play in mind,” said Taylor with a laugh. “Any time you ask, he’s always got one that he is sure will work.”
Pooler’s brainchild was a fly pattern to junior Jarrell Barbour. Junior Scott Burgett, making his first varsity start, hit Barbour in stride down the left sideline for a score that regained the 14-point advantage.
“I’m sure he felt some nerves, but Scott is a really calm kid,” said Taylor of his signal caller who finished the night 9-of-15 passing for 95 yards and two touchdowns. “I thought he did a real nice job running the offense.”
Once again Mountain View responded to pull within seven, but the Coyotes had one more answer in the actionfilled first half.
On a 10-play drive, the Coyotes drove the ball to the Mountain View 12 with the clock under a minute to play. On first down, Burgett, facing heavy pressure, threw a pass to Johnson in the right flat.
Earlier in the week, Taylor said he hoped they could get the ball to Johnson 10 times every week because of the senior’s play-making ability.
The wide receiver, who had four catches for 32 yards, may have appeared to be hemmed in along the sideline. Instead a spin move and some fancy footwork later, the elusive Johnson had staked his team to a 28-14 edge with an incredible individual effort.
“I saw the first guy and knew I could make him miss, but after that it’s really just instinct,” he said. “I’m not sure what happened. I’m just excited that I could help the team.”
They may have wilted the year before in the second half, but this year’s Centennial squad remained strong, thanks to a staunch defense which had its stamina put to the test.
In a third quarter that saw Mountain View have the ball for all but one play Centennial’s defense managed to equal Mountain View’s offensive output.
Taylor, who said his team needed to improve in its takeaway-giveaway ratio from last year, watched as his defense took his words to heart.
With Mountain View on the move to start the second half, taking eight plays to move the ball to the Centennial 41, the Torros had a first and 10. Dropping back to pass senior Ricky Nielson never saw defensive lineman Joey Oliver coming as the Mountain View quarterback was drilled from behind before he could even set to throw. Senior R.J. Anderson scooped up the loose ball near midfield and sprinted untouched to the end zone, putting the game out of reach, making the score 34-14.
It was a familiar feeling for Nielson who spent the night running for his life from an aggressive Coyotes front.
“Their quarterback is really quick,” Ramsey said. “He can definitely move, but we just kept coming after him. We were pretty tired, but we’ve worked on our conditioning a lot which helped us keep after him.”
While Taylor listened to some media outlets call the victory a major upset and a huge undertaking for all of West Valley football, the coach said he and his players simply did what they expected to do.
“I’m proud of them, but I really felt if we prepared well we’d win the game,” he said. “If other people want to call it an upset or whatever they can do that, but we know what kind of team we are. I’m sure when we look at film we’ll find a bunch of things we need to improve on, but for a first effort it was a good one.”
With a variety of weapons on offense, big physical lineman on both sides of the ball and a swarming defense it should be the first of many for Centennial.