Centennial routs Notre Dame Prep in 5A state championship

Centennial High School football completed the most dominant of its seven championship seasons with a comprehensive state finals performance.

The Coyotes asserted their dominance with a 32-point second quarter en route to a 60-7 obliteration of Notre Dame Preparatory in Saturday’s 5A title game at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Coyotes started early. Senior linebacker Eric Fields intercepted senior quarterback Jake Farrell to end the Saints first drive. Three plays later, junior quarterback Jonathan Morris faked a pass, ran and cut back into open space, going untouched for a 64-yard touchdown.

“Our offense has always known we’re good. Our defense is amazing so it’s hard to overlook them,” Morris said.

And the special teams are no slouch. In that 32-point second quarter, senior A.J. Jackson scored a touchdown in all three phases.

It started with an 88-yard Jackson punt return 22 seconds into the quarter. Jackson was a bit surprised at the opportunity.

“Yes and no. Yes because I’ve had a couple good returns over the season and usually teams don’t kick to me. No because (Notre Dame Prep) has some good coverage. And I expect a team that’s made it to the state championship game would have confidence,” Jackson said.

He followed 25 seconds later by jumping a route, picking off Farrell and dashing 35 yards for another score.

That was the theme of this game, as Centennial was prepared for the Saints’ short, timing-based passing offense and ended up with five interceptions.

“Our d-line is great. We knew they were going to force the ball quick. And we were waiting on the go routes,” senior safety/tailback Tawee Walker said.

The Coyotes only had two scoring drives that took more than two minutes. Their longest was a 3:05 march finished by Morris’ 20-yard strike to junior receiver Dyelan Miller.

Junior kicker Juaquin Rodriguez added a 22-yard field goal after Notre Dame Prep (13-1) got a stop on third and goal.

“We turned the ball over, special teams plays, touchdowns. When that happens, it gets you away from what you want to do,” Notre Dame Prep coach George Prelock said.

Jackson capped the assault by weaving through the defense for a 24-yard receiving touchdown with 47 seconds until half.

The game was decided at the half, but the second half was a showcase for one of the Coyotes’ more unheralded cogs.

Junior cornerback/receiver Eric Haney had the Coyotes’ final three interceptions after halftime. His first saw Haney break on the ball almost before the receiver and scoot 35 yards for a touchdown and a 46-0 lead.

The Saints did get on the board when Farrell connected with senior Zack Gray on a 58-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. Coach Prelock said his seniors did not quit because even though they were losing, they wanted to make their last half memorable.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” Coach Prelock said. “They’ve been resilient all year. I couldn’t be prouder to coach a great group of kids.”

Centennial spread the wealth in the rushing game. Walker gained 63 yards on seven carries, junior Jaydin Young had 56 and a third-quarter touchdown on four carries and senior Davon Fountain added 46 on four runs. Thanks to his long early run, Morris led the team in rushing.

“I think the best example of that is our running backs. We’ve got five running backs and some games one guy has it and others it’s another kid. Never once have I heard from them, ‘This isn’t fair. I’m not getting mine. He got more touches than me.’ That never happened,” Centennial Coach Richard Taylor said.

A sixth running back who barely played varsity football all year got in on the fun. Brandon James ended the scoring on a three-yard run.

While Jackson said this team was uniquely dominant, he steered the credit back to the Coyotes coaching staff. He said he probably watched 10 hours of Notre Dame Prep film and the coaches probably doubled that in the past two weeks.

And long before that, Taylor and his staff showed their players the value of the program’s selfless standards.

“Coach Richard Taylor is one of the best coaches ever. Team, then teammates, then self is something he really preaches. That’s something we’ve seen come to fruition time and time again,” Jackson said.

Editor’s Note: Richard Smith is the West Valley Preps sports editor for the Daily News Sun.

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