Red Mountain against Centennial, in a Conference 6A playoff football game

Red Mountain junior quarterback Carter Crispin (9) fakes a throw before scrambling against Centennial, in a Conference 6A playoff football game, Friday, November 19, 2021, at Jim Jones Stadium in Mesa, Arizona. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Red Mountain coach Mike Peterson could only laugh after his team’s victory over Centennial Friday night in the first round of the 6A playoffs.

He knew his team’s matchup against Centennial would be one that was tougher than it looked on paper with the Mountain Lions as the No. 4 seed and Coyotes No. 13. He respects Centennial coach Richard Taylor and had little doubt his team would come into Jim Jones Stadium ready to play.

He was right.

Centennial went toe-to-toe with Red Mountain until the end. But the Mountain Lions managed to prevail with a nail-biting 20-19 victory.

“Man, write a story about that, huh,” Peterson said, later adding that he knew Taylor’s team would be among the most well-prepared and well-coached he had faced this season.

“That guy’s been winning championships when I was coaching JV. He was winning championships before half of my coaching staff was conceived.”

The start of the game for Red Mountain was one to forget, to say the least. The Mountain Lions fumbled the opening kick on the return but were luckily able to recover. That, however, foreshadowed what was to come on their first offensive play.

Junior quarterback Carter Crispin found an open receiver in the middle of the field. But after just three short steps, he was stripped of the ball. Centennial came away with it in Red Mountain territory.

The Coyotes drove down inside the Mountain Lion 10 behind the arm of junior quarterback Steven Urquiza but were forced to settle for a field goal.

Peterson said it was at that moment his coaching staff challenged his offense.

“The conversation was less about the turnovers and more about them playing harder than us,” Peterson said. “That’s really what causes the turnovers, they were playing harder from the get go. We wanted them to match the level. We got it done when we needed to.”

A Red Mountain punt followed by a Centennial fumble led to a 5-yard touchdown run from junior running back Lenox Lawson. That started a back-and-forth between Lawson and Centennial senior running back Kavaughn Clark, who broke free for a 53-yard run before answering Red Mountain’s touchdown with one of his own from a yard out.

Then it was Lawson’s turn to answer and he did in the form of a 49-yard touchdown run to put Red Mountain back on top. The junior finished with 86 yards on the ground on 13 carries.

“Lenox is a playmaker,” Crispin said. “He just finds that hole and he cuts and gets up field. He’s got that speed.”

Crispin was forced to exit the game in the second quarter. After scrambling for a short gain he slid on the turf and ran back to the sideline with his right elbow quickly swelling up. It was determined he had burst a bursa sack.

The burst didn’t present too much pain but did limit his range of motion, which led to sophomore Kyle Heap playing out the rest of the second half.

Crispin emerged from the locker room and began to warm up to return. He said he was hesitant in his first series, which led to a punt. But he quickly became comfortable in the pocket and led the Mountain Lions down the field twice — the first ended in a jump ball interception by Centennial defensive back Kenneth Worthy III.

The second time down for the Mountain Lions, however, was the most important score of the game.

After a roughing the kicker penalty on Centennial gave Red Mountain a new set of downs from inside the 5, Crispin threw a bullet to wideout Ja’Kobi Lane for the go-ahead score at the end of the third quarter.

“It was a big game, there was a lot going through my mind,” said Crispin, who finished 12 of 18 for 119 yards and the touchdown. “Players make plays and I knew I just had to get it to Ja’Kobi, our playmaker, and he was gonna catch the rock and do what he does. It was awesome the way it all worked out.”

The touchdown allowed Red Mountain’s defense to hunker down and put a stop to Centennial’s rushing attack, which gashed them for 167 yards on the night with 107 coming from Clark.

The Coyotes were forced into a fourth down situation with just under two minutes remaining. Urquiza dropped back to pass and tried to connect with a wideout over the middle but it was deflected by a leaping Parker McClure.

It was just one of the many plays the senior linebacker and three-year starter made on the night for Red Mountain.

“We knew they wanted to come over here and run the rock,” McClure said. “They’re big up front and have good running backs. If you want to beat a good team you have to stop what they’re good at … When you make them have to throw and you know the situation is they have to throw, it makes it easier to play. You know what’s coming and you can just set up and get it done.”

Centennial tried to lateral on one final possession but were driven out of bounds, which led to a postgame scuffle between the teams.

Nonetheless, Red Mountain managed to grind out a gritty win against a Centennial team that faced several bouts of adversity after making the Open Division playoffs the last two seasons.

With the win, Red Mountain will move on to the quarterfinals for the fifth time in six years under Peterson. The Mountain Lions will host No. 5 Brophy, which knocked off No. 12 Desert Ridge Friday night.

“We talked about it tonight, do it like it’s your last chance because it may be,” Peterson said. “That’s how we have to approach (Brophy).”

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira


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