Bishop Gorman football coach Tony Sanchez isn’t psychic. But the way Centennial carried itself and played during a 49-20 loss to the Gaels on Oct. 19 told Sanchez his team hadn’t seen the last of the Bulldogs.
Sanchez was right. Centennial (9-2) travels to Gorman (10-1) at 7 p.m. today with the Sunset Region title on the line. The winner moves into the Division I state semifinals and will play the Northern Region champion Nov. 24.
“When we walked off the field that night, we were pretty convinced we’d see them again,” Sanchez said. “And they look good right now.”
Centennial is coming off a 14-9 win over previously undefeated Arbor View last week, and the Bulldogs don’t have to fear the unknown against the Gaels.
“Playing them before really gave us an idea of who they are, how they play, and we’re coming out ready,” Centennial senior defensive end/tight end Trajan Pili said.
The task Pili and the Bulldogs face is daunting. Gorman won the last three Class 4A state titles, and hasn’t lost to a Nevada school since 2008.
But the Bulldogs were the first Southwest League team to score more than one touchdown against Gorman since Sanchez took over in 2009, and they are hoping to build on that performance.
“We focused a lot on the positives this week,” Centennial coach Leon Evans said. “We did have some success on these guys and we’ve got to continue.”
Though the Bulldogs defense shut down a potent Arbor View team that was averaging 42.9 points, the Gaels are even more explosive. They’re averaging 51.3 points per game, having compiled 221 in the last three games.
Quarterback Jarrett Solomon, a four-year starter committed to Arizona, has led the way, completing 69.2 percent of his passes for 2,209 yards and 29 touchdowns. Junior running back Nathan Starks has rushed for 1,384 yards and 22 TDs, averaging 11 yards per carry.
Sanchez said it will be important for his team to set the tone against a Centennial team that would like to grind it out.
“We’ve scored a lot of points on a lot of good teams,” Sanchez said. “We want to put as much pressure as we can on them offensively.”
Pili said the Bulldogs are focused on taking Gorman out of its comfort zone.
“(We want to) control the game, control the time management and the plays they run and force them to do what we want to do — don’t let them take over the game,” Pili said.
Pili and the defense could get a huge boost from the offense if the Bulldogs are able to chip away and pick up first downs.
“We’re focusing on long drives, take as much time as we can and don’t let Solomon get the ball, and don’t let the (Gorman) offense get the ball,” Pili said. “Mostly we just want to control the entire game.”
Coby Newton needed 30 carries to gain 116 yards against Arbor View, but his tough running helped Centennial move the chains and eat up clock.
“Changing our scheme at this time of year, I feel would be counterproductive,” Evans said. “And doing things that we’re not used to wouldn’t be helpful for us right now. We told our kids, ‘Let’s go out and play our football game. Let’s do what we’re good at, and continue to do it at the best of our ability.’
“It’s about getting back to the basic: run blocking and tackling people. It’s still football.”
Pili said his squad won’t be intimidated by the Gaels.
“We know what Gorman is, who they are, but we don’t really care,” Pili said. “We want to go out and win a state championship, and we know we have to get through these guys first. The bottom line is we’re just going to fight. To the very last whistle, we’re fighting.”