After an 0-3 start against a treacherous early schedule, Centennial’s season could have spiraled out of control.
Coach Leon Evans instead focused on the positive, telling his team there was an opportunity to go undefeated the rest of the way with the difficult stretch behind them. The No. 7 Bulldogs heeded their coach’s words and clinched a playoff spot by winning their fifth straight game, a 32-7 home win over Legacy on Friday night.
Centennial can make Evans prophecy come true with a victory over Cheyenne in the season finale next week.
“It all started at practice. It’s totally balls to the wall,” senior Jacobi Owens said. “When we lost the first game to Las Vegas, we were hanging our heads and bummed out. But after that third game against Palo (Verde), we just totally changed our mindset to practice hard and work hard, and it’s worked out for us.”
There is not much mystery to what has made Centennial (5-3, 5-2 Northwest League) successful.
“We don’t try to fool you. We come at you,” Evans said. “We tell our big boys up front all the time they are the deciding factor in the football game. Block for Jacobi (Owens), and then pass protect when you have to, and you will be the difference.”
The formula has been working and was on display against Legacy (4-4, 3-4) as Owens ran for 315 yards and two scores on 29 carries.
“It’s not a (gimmick) offense. We’re not like Palo Verde or Arbor View,” Owens said. “We’re going to run it down your throat. Try to stop it if you can.”
Legacy could not.
Owens had back-to-back 26-yard carries in the first half to set up his first touchdown of the game, a 6-yard run.
After L.J. McMorris answered with a 62-yard TD run for the Longhorns on the next play from scrimmage, it was all Bulldogs.
Centennial took the lead for good on a 29-yard Matthew Kane field goal and added to the lead on a 10-yard pass from Austin Turley to Deontae Gilkey midway through the second quarter.
Coby Newton scored on a 63-yard pass from Turley on the first drive of the second half, and Owens capped the scoring with a 65-yard run late in the third quarter.
“We came out this season and dropped three right off jump street. Now, we’ve gone undefeated since, and we’re right back where we want to be,” Newton said. “We hate losing. We knew we had to work hard, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
The Bulldogs defense stopped Legacy on three fourth-down plays inside the 30-yard line and kept the Longhorns off the scoreboard after the first quarter.
Turley threw for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. D’Andre Hughes ran for 97 yards for Legacy, while McMorris added 91 on the ground.
Owens said the team has its sights set on continuing the winning streak all the way through the playoffs, but this year already feels like validation for a team that made a surprising run to the postseason last year.
“Everybody thought we were just a Cinderella team last year,” he said. “But we can actually play with all these teams, and we’ve confirmed that.”
Evans made it clear his team’s work is far from done.
“We want to go finish out and play well against Cheyenne and get that third seed,” he said. “It’s not really about the seed. We just want to go out and win and finish the season strong.”
Finishing fourth would mean a first-round matchup with Bishop Gorman.