Centennial appeared to gain some separation from main region rival Avondale Westview last year with a 40-point victory in the regular season and 42-point win in the playoffs.
It was only temporary. The Knights are back on eye level with the Coyotes. Both teams are 7-1 and 4-0 in the Desert West Region.
And this year, Centennial is the squad trying to shake off a loss. Mesa Red Mountain ended the Coyotes 35-game home winning streak with a 31-24 victory last week.
“Last week is over, there’s noting we can do except learn from that,” said Centennial coach Richard Taylor. “Hopefully, we’ve all flushed that. Our only care and concern now is Westview, a very good team.”
As Westview coach Jeff Bowen said, Red Mountain is one of the state’s better teams, so it’s not like the Coyotes are in a down year. What’s more likely Friday night is a return to the close, emotional struggles of 2007 and 2008 marked by physical line play and speedy playmakers on both sides.
Every discussion of Westview starts with its running backs. Senior Jordon Champion has 752 yards and 10 touchdowns on only 59 carries — his work has been limited in recent one-sided games — and leads the Knights with 14 receptions for 241 yards.
Sophomore Seivion Morris (812 yards and 10 touchdowns on 80 carries) and junior Shayne Miller (431 yards and 10 touchdowns) give Westview a backfield triple treat. Bowen’s son, Brennan, a senior center, leads one of Arizona’s better offensive lines.
“Our line has done a great job this year,” Bowen said. “We don’t throw it a ton, but we do it efficiently.”
Indeed, as Taylor also pointed out, teams that stack the box against the Knights are vulnerable to the big pass play. Senior quarterback Nick Sornsin’s completion percentage (45) and passing yards (612) don’t jump off the page, but his 10-2 touchdown to interception ratio does.
He may throw a bit more this week, as Centennial showed vulnerability to that last week. Red Mountain gained 270 yards and picked up two touchdowns through the air.
Still, Westview figures to rely on its wing-T attack to keep Centennial’s big-play threats off the field. Like previous games in this series, a large part of this contest will come down to line play.
“They’re a very physical team. As a lineman, I like that. It’s a lot of fun,” said Centennial senior right tackle Hunter Finn.
Both teams are inexperienced but talented along the defensive lines. As with Westview, Centennial’s offensive line is a veteran group that usually starts five seniors.
Center Jake Abbott and guard Paul Ray were injured recently and Taylor was not sure whether they could play Friday. The same is true for junior quarterback Justin Sanchez, who missed the Red Mountain game.
Senior linebacker Jebron Harrington sat out that game after missing practice earlier last week. His status for this week has not been decided.
At full strength, Centennial’s offense presents many problems.
Senior tailback Vegas Johnson moves the chains and can break into the open field. Sophomore Jalen Oriz plays off Johnson and is a threat to explode on every touch.
Sanchez and fellow junior Troy Hawthorne are dual threats in the spread attack. Seniors Gary Ross and Julien Singleton are cornerbacks first, but figure to see more time at receiver in this one.
Unlike most Coyote opponents, however, Westview is unlikely to be overwhelmed by the speed on offense. The Knights are strong in their back seven, led by linebackers Zach Chavez and Chuks Amaechi and defensive back Guillermo Cuevas. Senior Cody Rediger is emerging on the defensive line.
“This group is at the level of our 2008 group,” Bowen said. “Maybe not as big, but much faster.”
2008 was a watershed year for this rivalry. After meeting in the 2007 5A-II finals, the next year’s games took on the atmosphere of prizefights.
Centennial grinded out a 14-0 win at Westview and a 20-7 victory in the 5A-II title game that year.
To do it again this year, the Coyotes must control two huge aspects of games between evenly matched teams, penalties and turnovers. That didn’t happen against Red Mountain.
“When you play good teams — our penalties weren’t bad last week, but we still had too many,” Taylor said. “Our turnovers weren’t bad. We had two. They had zero turnovers.”
With the teams facing off twice each of the last three years, and the battles carrying over to the freshman and JV levels, this is now one of the state’s best rivalries. Westview has been close in most of the games, but has not beaten Centennial in eight previous attempts.
“I can’t remember a Westview-Centennial game that wasn’t emotional.” Taylor said.