Centennial’s football team has only two losses this season, and they’ve come against the area’s top two teams: No. 1 Bishop Gorman and No. 2 Arbor View.
The No. 5 Bulldogs (8-2) have a chance to avenge one of those losses and possibly set up another rematch when they travel to Arbor View (10-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Division I Sunset Region semifinals.
Arbor View defeated the Bulldogs 31-18 on Sept. 21.
“We’ve been working all year to get back to this game,” Centennial quarterback Austin Turley said.
The winner moves into the Sunset title game against the winner of Friday’s Gorman-Palo Verde game.
“I think it’s extra motivation,” Centennial coach Leon Evans said of the earlier loss. “Last time we didn’t show up, and our kids are kind of chomping at the bit to get back at this game.
“Our pride was questioned that first ballgame. And this is a game of pride. There’s a lot at stake, but more our pride than anything.”
Centennial has averaged 224 rushing yards this season, but the running game never got going against Arbor View. The Aggies limited the Bulldogs to 53 yards on the ground, and Centennial averaged only 2.4 yards per carry.
“We just weren’t very tough up front,” Evans said. “We didn’t run the ball well, and that’s our thing. If we can’t run the ball, our offense doesn’t go.”
Turley thinks the team should be able to do a better job running the ball this time. Centennial is coming off a season-high 344 rushing yards in a 59-21 win over Durango in the quarterfinals.
“We’re a lot more physical now than we were last time they played them,” Turley said. “Last time they pushed us around up front.”
Turley also is a different player. The Bulldogs have done a better job throwing the ball lately, and Turley has topped 100 passing yards in four straight games, including a season-high 223 yards against Durango. He had only two 100-yard games in the team’s first six.
“They’re kind of spreading it around a little bit more, which makes them more dangerous,” Arbor View coach Dan Barnson said. “They’ve just kind of expanded on their offense, and that makes it tougher.
“Turley’s good, and they’re going to throw it.”
Turley credited his offensive line for improved passing numbers.
“I’ve had a lot of time,” Turley said. “Early in the year, I was getting hit a lot.”
He also said the team has changed its focus in the passing game.
“Our coaches have put our playmakers in spots to make plays,” Turley said. “It makes it a lot easier on me. At the line of scrimmage I can change things, get them the ball in space and let them make plays for us.”
Both teams agreed that the atmosphere should be outstanding. The regular-season game at Centennial drew a great crowd, and the same is expected at Arbor View.
“It’s very exciting. The stands should be packed,” Arbor View senior lineman Steven Davis said. “Everyone should be here. It should be one of the biggest games of the year, especially considering how much talent will be on the field.”
Turley conceded that it’s difficult to prepare to play a team a second time, but thinks his squad may have an edge this time.
“I think we have an advantage,” Turley said. “It’s definitely hard to beat a good team twice. Even though we lost last time, we have all the confidence in the world going into this game.”