The last time Hamilton and Centennial lined up against one another, the Coyotes scored 27 unanswered points to knock off the Huskies in the 2015 quarterfinals.
Hamilton players were reminded of that loss by coach Mike Zdebski in the two weeks leading up to the Open Division quarterfinal game between the two schools on Friday night. They wanted to win it not only for themselves, but for the alumni that came before them.
Led by a strong defensive performance and stout rushing attack, No. 7 Hamilton overpowered second-ranked Centennial, defeating the Coyotes 28-19 to move on to the semifinal round of the Open Division.
“Coach Z gave us an essay and told us about the last time they beat us,” Hamilton senior quarterback Nick Arvay said. “All this 2020 class has been through, I wanted to win it for them, for us and for all the alumni. It just feels amazing.”
Defensive units from both teams started strong in the first quarter, as Hamilton forced a Centennial punt and the Coyotes forced a fumble. It wasn’t until the just under two minutes remained in the first quarter that the Huskies managed to score the first points of the game.
A 24-yard pass from Arvay to senior wideout Brenden Rice, who leaped over a Centennial defender, set up senior running back Gabriel Armenta for the 1-yard touchdown run.
Hamilton’s defense continued to limit Centennial’s offensive production, though a pass interference penalty allowed the Coyotes to put points on the board thanks to a 31-yard field goal by Juaquin Rodriguez.
Two more pass interference penalties against Hamilton on Centennial’s next offensive possession led to a 15-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jonathan Morris to senior wideout Dyelan Miller. The late second-quarter touchdown gave Centennial its first lead of the game.
However, that was the only time the Coyotes led.
A 43-yard pass from Arvay to Rice gave Hamilton a first down deep in Centennial territory. With just under two minutes to play until halftime, Arvay called his own number for the 5-yard touchdown.
“If they want to bracket all of our best receivers, we will run the ball,” Arvay said. “If they want to play man coverage, we will throw it. We will do whatever it takes.”
Hamilton continued applying pressure to Centennial on both sides of the ball in the second half. An interception by junior athlete Brady Shough stalled Centennial’s offense and eventually led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Armenta.
Centennial would respond, however, as a 68-yard run by senior athlete Jaydin Young set up junior running back Tage Rigby for a 2-yard touchdown.
Sensing a chance to take the lead, Centennial’s defense tried to pressure Hamilton on its first drive of the fourth quarter. However, senior running back Sebastain Dorman found a hole from 44 yards out and scored to extend Hamilton’s lead to 28-17.
The touchdown run helped Dorman finish with 84 yards rushing. Armenta, meanwhile, had 108 yards and two touchdowns while Arvay added 56 more rushing yards to Hamilton’s total as a team.
“We just knew we have to run the ball to be successful,” Zdebski said. “When we don’t run the ball, we aren’t as efficient as we want to be and as we need to be.
“They all take turns making our offensive line look really good.”
Hamilton’s defense went back to work, as another Shough interception with under two minutes to play sealed the victory for the Huskies.
“It felt great,” Shough said. “I kind of rested in the first half but came out ready to go in the second. I saw the ball coming over the top and made a play. was just so happy for us. Everyone has been doubting us. We practiced hard for two weeks and we executed.”
Penalties hampered both teams on both sides of the ball, as both had more five flags thrown against them for well over 100 combined yards. The two did, however, limit turnovers with just four combined throughout the night.
However, the two for Centennial proved to be the costliest against a stout Hamilton defense.
“We practiced hard for two weeks and we came out and executed,” Shough said. “We knew we could stop the run, so it was up to us DBs to stop the pass and we did that.
“Everyone has been doubting us, but we aren’t done yet.”
Hamilton experienced heartbreak in its regular-season finale against rival and No. 1 Chandler, as the Huskies came just two yards short of knocking off the three-time defending 6A champions.
Several players vowed they would make a statement in the playoffs while walking off the field after the loss, and they were able to do that by knocking off the two-time defending 5A Conference champion in Centennial.
“It feels good,” Zdebski said of the win. “We will enjoy this one on the bus ride home but then tomorrow we have to get back to work.”
With the win, Hamilton (9-2) advances to face third-ranked Saguaro in the Open Division semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. The game will be played at Coronado High School.
Saguaro dominated No. 6 Horizon Friday night, beating the Huskies 49-3. The winner of next week’s showdown between Hamilton and Saguaro will move on to face the winner of the other semifinal game between top-ranked Chandler and No. 4 Salpointe Catholic. The Wolves and Lancers both won convincingly over Chaparral and Pinnacle, respectively.
The Huskies know the type of firepower Saguaro brings to all facets of the game, as there are more than 20 Sabercat players with Division I offers. But they’re up for the challenge.
“We know they have a bunch of great players,” Arvay said. “But we are going to practice hard this week and do whatever it takes to try and win.”
HHS – 7 7 7 7 -- 28
CHS – 0 10 7 2 – 19
HHS – Armenta 1 run (Kofahl kick), 1:14
CHS – Rodriguez 31 field goal, 7:51
CHS – Morris 15 pass to Miller (Rodriguez kick), 4:32
HHS – Arvay 5 run (Kofahl kick), 1:13
HHS – Armenta 4 run (Kofahl kick), 3:26
CHS – Rigby 2 run (Rodriguez kick), :11
HHS – Dorman 44 run (Kofahl kick), 8:39
CHS – Safety, :16