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Bulldogs return hungrier after getting whiff of title

It took John Roberts six months to muster up the courage to sit down and watch film of last February’s Clark County School District flag football championship.

The fourth-year Centennial coach didn’t want to relive any part of his team’s 7-6 loss to Boulder City. He even took a trip around Southeast Asia and forgot it ever happened.

“Wasn’t too happy about that one,” he said.

But Roberts isn’t going to hide from that loss this season. In fact, he plans on using it as a motivating tool for his Bulldogs, who will be looking to defend their Sunset Region title and compete for the school’s first flag football title.

“We failed,” Roberts said. “I bring it up to them all the time. They’re going to know about that sting. Our camp shirts say, ‘Camp to Finish’ because we missed by two points. If we had two points more, we would have won that game. I want to remind them that we didn’t finish what we started.”

Centennial, which has lost to the eventual champion in the playoffs every season since flag football began as a sport in 2012-2013, nearly had its breakthrough last year in the season finale.

The Bulldogs ran for a touchdown to cut Boulder City’s lead to 7-6 with 11 minutes, 5 seconds to go in the second half and lined up for the extra-point attempt at the 5-yard line.

Then “the call” happened.

Quarterback Kiana Sai, who has since graduated, appeared to have scored the tying point on a bootleg run but was called down at the 1-yard line on a controversial call.

“We scored on that extra point,” junior wide receiver/safety Aliyah Wyrick said. “It was dumb. Sai reached out the ball. She had the ball stretched out (over the goal line).”

Centennial failed to score afterward and was unsuccessful on a fourth-and-8 at the Eagles’ 28-yard line with 50 seconds to play, allowing Boulder City to win and maintain its perfect season.

“We could have at least tied with that extra point,” senior safety/running back Ashley Marshall said. “If it’s a blowout, it’s kind of different because you can act like you never had a chance. … We’re not really criers. We’re pretty tough. And a lot of us broke down. The seniors were devastated. I was devastated.”

Marshall wasn’t the only one.

“It took me a couple of days to realize, ‘OK, it’s in the past. I have another year to play,'” senior corner back/safety Courtney Reeves said. “You just have to use that as motivation.”

Centennial, which gave up only 11.5 points per game last season and recorded five shutouts, is hoping to have better luck this season. And the Bulldogs are in position to do so.

They return 11 letter winners this season, including eight starters, and have added an influx of talent from the junior varsity team, which only lost one game over the past two seasons.

“We have a lot of talent on our team,” senior linebacker/wide receiver Cienna Mendez said. “We filled the open spots pretty well, so it shouldn’t be a problem with this team. We have a lot of girls and I think we can pull through.”

Centennial will have to replace Sai and standout running back Lauren Ritter on the offensive side of the ball, but the Bulldogs will once again rely on their stingy defense. That’s something Roberts has preached since starting the program.

“My philosophy is, ‘Defense wins championships,'” Roberts said. “We’re structured defensively. We’re defensive-minded across the board. … We want to be physical. It’s part of the game. Obviously, within the realm of this sport, you can’t be as physical as boys football. But do it for protection. If you don’t go out 100-percent, someone else is going to get you.”

Even though they’ll have to break in a new quarterback — junior Halli Erickson — the Bulldogs still feel confident enough to make a deep playoff run.

And having that added motivation from last season will only intensify their hunger.

“I truly believe we are the best team,” Wyrick said. “There’s no competition. Nobody has what we have. We’re too athletic.”

Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at aferguson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson

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