A week after key penalties and turnovers proved fatal in a loss to Mesa Red Mountain, Centennial won the battle of hidden yardage against rival Avondale Westview.
Despite being outgained by 117 yards in the first half - Westview's total offense was 201, compared to Centennial's 84 yards - the Coyotes led 13-7 thanks to a pair of short-field touchdowns set up by an interception and a punt return.
"I don't care whether its Pop Warner or whatever level, it's turnovers, penalties and execution," coach Richard Taylor said. "Last week, Red Mountain did, we didn't. This week, we did, Westview didn't. That's why we came out on top."
In the second half, speedy playmakers Jalen Ortiz and Gary Ross provided the Coyotes with separation on the field and the scoreboard. Centennial (8-1, 5-0 Desert West Region) scored on four plays of 36 or more yards to cruise past Westview (7-2, 4-1) 41-21 on senior night.
The Coyotes' first big play came on defense, as junior safety Zach Hoffpauir jumped a route, intercepted senior Nick Sornsin's pass and returned the pick 17 yards to the Westview 8.
"We were coached up well. I saw the bootleg and jumped the drag route and picked it," Hoffpauir said. "Without our defensive line getting pressure on the quarterback, I wouldn't have been able to do that."
Two plays later, senior tailback Vegas Johnson scored on a two-yard run. A low snap scuttled the extra point attempt, so Centennial led 6-0.
Westview regained its footing, mixing its three-back Wing-T ground game with the occasional deep pass. Sornsin connected with senior split end Dylan Caballero on a 33-yard fly pattern to bring the Knights into the red zone.
Junior tailback Shayne Miller scored on a one-yard run to cap the 14-play, 89-yard drive that gave Westview a 7-6 lead.
Both team stalled on their next drives and punted. Ross broke loose for a big return down the sideline to start Centennial's next drive at the Westview 33.
Two plays later, Ortiz got the corner on a sweep and dashed 29 yards to the end zone.
"We just kept building on the big play," Ortiz said. "Gary had a great punt return, almost took it back. Then we executed real well on that run."
Centennial had to sweat out another deep pass from Sornsin to Caballero _ this one for 50 yards. The Knights drove to the Centennial 26, but were stopped on fourth down to end the threat.
The Coyotes defense asserted itself early in the second half. Senior linebacker Tevin Ray sacked Sornsin on second down, and with more pressure on third down Centennial junior safety Jesse Callahan snagged the senior's rushed throw and returned to the Westview 36.
This time, Ortiz made the Kinghts pay on the first play, taking a read option draw 36 yards to extend the lead to 20-7.
The next quick strike came via the pass. Junior Troy Hawthorne had made safe, short passes all night, but on a third down play, he hit Ross in stride on a post pattern that spanned 65 yards for a touchdown.
"(Offensive coordinator) Kyle Pooler said 'this will be a touchdown. If we run it right, this will be a touchdown,'" Taylor said.
Centennial now had breathing room, and was able to take away the big pass play. Caballero finished the night with six receptions for 111 yards, but was limited to 28 yards in the second half.
"We had coverage mix-ups (early). We weren't communicating very well," Hoffpauir said. "We went in the locker room and coach Taylor told us to start communicating better. In the second half, we started telling each other what to do."
The Knights still ran effectively. Miller finished a nine-play drive - eight of which were runs - on a 13-yard sweep. The touchdown brought Westview within 13 points.
But any thoughts of a comeback were squelched in 14 seconds. That's how long it took Ortiz to run the kickoff back 98 yards. He almost didn't get his hands on the ball
"I though (Vegas Johnson) was saying 'you, you, you,' but he was saying 'me,' so I went over and took it. The hole was wide open and I just had to run," Ortiz said.
Centennial led 34-14, even though the Coyote offense had only picked up two first downs.
Gone are the punishing drives featuring an I back behind a massive offensive lines. In its place is less sustained drives, but more speed to burn.
"That is a little bit different from what I'm normally used to," Taylor said. "We usually ran the ball and ran it some more. But I will take the one-play drives. That's all right."
For their final drive, Centennial turned back the clock, chewing up six minutes and 86 yards with nine straight runs. Ray got some time on offense, rumbling 36 yards up the gut to stretch the advantage to 27.
Westview tacked on a touchdown with one second left, on a nine-yard run by senior Jordon Champion.
Champion was the game's leading rusher, gaining 92 yards on 15 carries. But the Coyote defense accomplished its mission of holding the explosive (12.75 yards per carry through eight games) senior in check. Champion's longest run went for 16 yards.
"(Defensive coordinator) Andrew Taylor probably knows Westview as well as anyone does," Richard Taylor said. "Sooner or later those flags come out, and I think that hurts them more than it hurts us. They hate being in second-and-eight situations. They're really a good team. That's one of the best Westview team we've faced."
Senior linebacker Jebron Harrington was back after sitting out last week. Senior guard Paul Ray returned from injury.
The Coyotes were without their top lineman, senior center Jake Abbott, and their starting quarterback, junior Justin Sanchez. Taylor said both should be available for next week's season finale at Laveen Cesar Chavez.