The Centennial Coyote football team is no stranger to big games against major competition — both in and out of Arizona — but a September 6 game against Mater Dei from Santa Ana, California, might be its toughest challenge in recent memory.
The Monarchs are back-to-back National Champions as named by USA Today and High School Football America.
Arizona competition has been little challenge to the Coyotes as of late. Their last 5A loss came in the 2017 state championship game against Williams Field, resulting in the only nonchampionship season Centennial football has produced in the past four years. They have also beaten two out-of-state opponents — national powerhouses Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, Nevada, and St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale, Florida — in the past two seasons.
However, the last out-of-state game, a home contest against Eastside Catholic from Sammamish, Washington, resulted in a 17-0 loss and a bit of a damper on an otherwise-dominant state-championship season. The next contest will serve as a chance to exact some revenge, as well as prove the team’s skill against one of the best teams in the United States.
“After that Eastside Catholic game, it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. And I don’t want to feel that again, so I don’t want to lose this one,” Coyote senior quarterback Jonathan Morris said.
Centennial will come into the game with a win already under its belt, a close-fought 34-27 victory over Casteel. The game, according to senior running back and safety Jaydin Young, exposed some of the team’s rust after a long offseason.
Casteel was in the midst of a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter before dropping a fourth-down pass, making the result much less dominant than Centennial’s 42-19 win over the same team just a year ago to open the 2018 campaign.
The game was filled with penalties and missed chances, including nearly blowing a 13-point lead the Coyotes gathered in just the first few minutes of the game.
Young gave a lot of credit to the Coyotes’ struggles to Casteel’s hustle and game plan, but said a victory over a team as talented as any they could possibly face will require stronger execution of its game strategy and more precise fundamental play.
“We know we can’t make mistakes in that game because of how good they (Mater Dei) are. It’s going to be something where we have to capitalize whenever we can,” he said.
Though the game showed senior lineman Josh Hovatter that the Coyotes have much to do before they feel confident in the 2019 version of this team, he said the close win might actually be a blessing and mental wake-up call.
There was a certain sense of pride for having to grind out a game that was more uncomfortable than the Centennial sideline would have liked, as well as confirmation for the players that they are ready to test themselves.
“In these moments we have to see how we can come back. It kind of shows who is out there ready to battle in tough moments, and those are the guys you want alongside you,” Hovatter said.
While many teams across the state open their season or play their second game of 2019 on August 30, Centennial will take the week off, allowing them an extra few days to prepare for a game that has major implications for not only them, but Arizona as a whole.
A win, Hovatter said, would not only earn bragging rights for Centennial specifically over an incredible opponent, but also to promote the entire state’s pride in its high school football programs.
“Every school that plays a team out of state, whether it’s us or Chandler or Saguaro or whoever it is, you’re representing Arizona football,” Hovatter said. “You want to show what our area can do, because that’s a big deal.”