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AZPreps365 Cornerby AIA365.com Staff
#4 Centennial Hosts #13 Tucson Sahuaro In Playoff OpenerNov 1, 2012
The Division II High School football playoffs get underway Friday night as fourth-seeded Peoria Centennial hosts 13th-seeded Tucson Sahuaro in the opening round. Division II seems to be wide open with several teams having a great chance of hoisting the championship trophy at Sun Devil Stadium on November 24th.
Centennial head coach Richard Taylor said "I think there are 4 or 5 teams that have a chance to win it all and I think we are in that group."
Centennial (9-1) appears to be on pace for another championship run. The Coyotes started the season 5-and-0 before running into Tucson Ironwood Ridge in Week Six. The Coyotes lost 28-24 to the Nighthawks, but have since reeled off dominating wins over Deer Valley, Independence, Sandra Day O'Connor and Ironwood. They outscored their final four opponents 232-14, with the two touchdowns coming in the final two minutes against third and fourth string players.
Despite the end to the season, Taylor says there are some things his team must work out in order to win the state title. "We are not playing at a championship level. Too many penalties, missed assignments but we are working on it."
For the season, Centennial racked up 561 points while giving up just 117. The Coyotes averaged 409.4 yards per game on offense, led by quarterback Tre'von Grant. The senior signal caller has thrown for 1,651 yards with 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions this year. Grant has spread the ball all over the field as 20 different players have scored for the Coyotes this season.
Sahuaro head coach Scott McKee says "it's a tough team to stop but we just gota try and slow them down, go up there and be real physical in what we're doing."
On this week's preparations, McKee says "our kids have showed up every day, ready to go and we're excited about the opportunity to play one of the better teams in Phoenix."
Jalen Ortiz is Grant's go-to guy. The UCLA commit has rushed for 868 yards and nine TDs on 79 carries this season to go with 19 catches for 378 yards and five scores. As a team, Centennial has amassed over 2,700 yards and 44 touchdowns rushing this year.
Centennial has been a force in the postseason every year since 2003, which includes a three-year title run from 2006-2008. The Coyotes are seeking a ninth straight trip to at least the state semifinals. They lost to Chaparral in the semis last season and also lost to the Firebirds in the state finals in 2010. Over the last 10 seasons, Centennial is 118-and-13 including the playoffs.
Taylor said "we are proud of what our teams have done over the last few years and the players know the expectations."
The Coyotes have faired well over Tucson area schools over the years. Since 2005, they are 7-and-1 with the lone loss to Ironwood Ridge this season. They have never met Sahuaro. Taylor said "they are a good team, well coached and they play hard."
Sahuaro (7-3) has turned things around under fourth year head coach Scott McKee. McKee said "the program is far better because of the kids we have, and all the work the coaches and families have put into the program. The sky is the limit down here once we get our feet on the ground."
After going 8-13 in McKee's first two years, the Cougars have posted back-to-back seven-win seasons and are in the playoffs for the second straight year. Sahuaro hopes for a better postseason showing after being crushed by Vail Cienega 45-6 in the opening round last year.
McKee said the expectations are high for his team this year. "The key for us and our program goals is to advance in the playoffs instead of just get there. And we're really close to that. We only have 14 seniors, so the future is really bright."
The Cougars outscored the opposition this year 395-157. They average 363 yards per game, including over 202 yards rushing. The ground game has produced 2,029 yards and 25 touchdowns, led by Alexander Howe's 1,088 yards and 14 scores. Junior quarterback Laramie Brown has thrown for 1,601 yards with 23 TDs and nine interceptions this season. His main target has been Cole Sterns, who has 26 catches for 458 yards and 11 scores. The junior has also ran for 198 yards and two TDs.
The turnover battle will be a key factor. "The most important thing for us is turning the football over," McKee said. "Weeks we haven't turned the football over, we've been able to play with anybody in the state. Weeks we haven't, we haven't been very good."
The winner of Friday's game will meet either fifth-seeded Laveen Cesar Chavez or 12th-seeded Goodyear Millennium in the quarterfinals. Kickoff Friday night is at 7pm.