Prep football playoff: Centennial advances past persistent Chaparral Firebirds

Chaparral quarterback Jack Miller tries to fight off a Centennial tackler during the Coyotes’ 34–27 win over the Firebirds in the quarterfinals of the 5A playoffs. (Submitted Photo/Donna Mundy)

Early Friday, Nov. 10, night, Centennial High School looked as if it might breeze to a 5A quarterfinal win, but Chaparral High School prepared to give the Coyotes all it could offer.

The Coyotes (11-1) had two special teams plays that lead to touchdowns as they held on for a 34-27 win over the 7-5 Firebirds.

No. 2 Centennial’s win set up a 7 p.m. Nov. 17 5A semifinal rematch with the No. 3 Liberty Lions (11-1) at Deer Valley High School.

Centennial’s only loss of the season was a 21-19 score Oct. 27 at the hands of Liberty. Liberty took a 42-28 win over Ironwood Ridge in its 5A Friday quarterfinal contest.

Chaparral quarterback Jack Miller (2) hands off the ball to running back Deavon Crawford (9) during Centennial 34–27 win over the Firebirds in the quarterfinals of the 5A playoffs. (Submitted Photo/Donna Mundy)

Centennial had a 28-7 lead after one quarter and 28-14 at halftime, but No. 10 Chaparral kept coming. When it ended, Centennial coach Richard Taylor said he knew it would be a battle.

“We expected that they’d play hard and you’ve got to give credit to coach Steve Isaac,” Coach Taylor said after the game. “Those two plays were big. He had a heart attack Monday and he does an outstanding job with special teams.”

The two plays Coach Taylor referred to was a fumbled kickoff by the Firebirds recovered inside the 1-yard line, which sophomore running back D’Angelo Garcia recovered, that led to one score.

Also, Coach Isaac had the Coyotes run a fake punt on fourth-and-seven with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter. Junior wide receiver/defensive back/punter A .J. Jackson sprinted 52 yards to the Firebirds’ 25-yard line.

Five plays later, senior running back Zidane Thomas went in from two yards, making it 34-20, with 1:18 left in the third quarter.

Although the Centennial crowd may have thought that put the game out of reach, Coach Taylor knew Chaparral’s sophomore quarterback Jack Miller would not go quietly at all.

He got the Firebirds within 28-20 and then 34-27 with a late touchdown pass.

“You can why their sophomore quarterback has been offered D-I scholarships,” Coach Taylor said “Our defensive coach Andrew Taylor needed to limit the damage and he did.”

Senior defensive end Jacob Franklin finished with 1.5 sacks, including a big loss of Miller to kill a Chaparral drive. However, he could take nothing for granted until the end.

“There still a great team and we defensively prepared for that,” Franklin said. “Our coaching staff, including defensive coach Andrew Taylor has us ready. We have it where I dropped off the line, and we try to memorize their play so we limit their tendancies.”

Sophomore strong safety Jaydin Young knew he to neutralize Chaparral’s offense as best he could.

The Chaparral defense swarms Centennial running back Zidane Thomas (2) during the Coyotes’ 34–27 win over the Firebirds in the quarterfinals of the 5A playoffs. (Submitted Photo/Donna Mundy)

“The coaches were telling us we needed to make plays, and I had to step up,” Young said. “Our D-line sacked Jack Miller, and I just felt like we had to overcome it (Miller’s passing) and play football.”

Chaparral coach Thomas Lewis kept reminding his players that they needed to be proud of what they accomplished, despite the final outcome.

“This is a very young team with three freshmen, and many sophomores,” Coach Lewis said. “We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. If you think about it, we gave up two touchdowns on special teams (the muffed kickoff recovered inside the 1-yard line and the fake punt). We lost two safeties with injuries, senior Andrew Hanneman, junior safety Cooper Capps and sophomore linebacker Braxen Tessler.”

Centennial opened the scoring as Thomas raced 30 yards to cap a two-and-a-half-minute drive in six plays.

Chaparral tied things on the next drive as Miller ran in from a yard out, but the big play came when Miller hit junior running back Marqui Johnson with a 69-yard pass.

It looked as if Centennial had complete control as they scored three touchdowns in 5:02. Jackson caught a quick 90-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Thomas added a one-yard run, and Thomas completed the first-quarter surge with a two-yard run for the 28th point.

Just as Centennial had control, Chaparral got a score back before the half as Miller hit Johnson with a 32-yard pass as the scoring quieted down and Centennial held a 28-14 halftime lead.

A pair of third-quarter firld goals by Tommy Christakos made it 28-20, but the fake punt helped turn things around for the Coyotes, despite missing the point-after.

Chaparral drove from its 30 to Centennial’s 33-yard line, but Miller’s pass was picked off at the one by Escobar.

Chaparral got to the Coyotes’ 22-yard line with 11.6 left, when Miller hit Christakos with a 22-yard touchdown pass to close the scoring.

Editor’s Note: George Witkowski writes for West Valley Preps.

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