Arizona shook up the landscape of high school football throughout the country last Friday night when the Centennial Coyotes (6-0), the state’s top ranked 5A team, shocked the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (4-1) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida by a score of 12-0.
St. Thomas Aquinas came into the game ranked #3 nationally, and a win already on their resume over the #4 ranked team in the country St. John Bosco of California 9-3. The Raiders boast 23 players who have at least one Division 1 college offer, including such powerhouse programs like Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, and Auburn. S.T.A is also the 3 time defending big school 7A Florida state champions.
Three days after the monumental victory, Centennial Head Coach Richard Taylor said there was still a buzz on campus, and that he was proud of his team’s effort in a match-up where his Coyotes were considered heavy underdogs. “It validates all of the hard work the kids put in.” Taylor said.
St. Thomas Aquinas came into the game averaging 31 points per game, but the fast and physical Centennial defense was up for the challenge. The Coyotes allowed just 203 yards of total offense while pitching their 4th shutout of the season. Centennial also had 5 sacks and 2 interceptions, one by junior Jayden Young and the other by senior Dom Hampton, who is committed to Washington.
“A lot of preparation was put in by our defensive coordinator Andrew Taylor (Richard’s son). Andrew demanded the players do everything exactly right. Our little guys weren’t going to win the one on one battles, so they had to properly execute our stunts and blitzes. Most of the 5 sacks we had came at crucial times. We also won the turnover and penalty battles.” Taylor said. The Coyotes were flagged 6 times for 35 yards while St. Thomas Aquinas was penalized 13 times for 130 yards.
Centennial senior kicker Xavier Rojas connected on a 33 yard field goal late in the 1st quarter to give the Coyotes a 3-0 lead. The score would remain the same in this defensive battle, until Rojas booted a 29 yard field goal early in the 4thquarter to extend Centennial’s lead to 6-0.
Then, with just under two minutes left in the game, Centennial faced a big 3rd down and 1 to go for the first down. The Coyotes gave the ball to senior running back Zidane Thomas, who appeared to be stuffed on the play, and then broke free for a 56 yard touchdown run that sealed the victory. It was the first touchdown the Raiders had given up all season, having allowed just 3 points going into the game.
Thomas, who has verbally committed to Boise State, finished the night with 113 yards on 22 carries. “I was pleased with how he kept pounding away. On the 56 yard touchdown run it didn’t look like there was anything at all. The offensive line kept their feet going. The play looked like it was in slow motion and then Zidane popped out the other side.” said Taylor.
It was also a memorable night for Thomas, who grew up in Florida, because his mother flew in from Tampa and watched him play in person for the first time. Fans started filling the stands 2 hours before kickoff which didn’t go unnoticed. “I really appreciate the support from the students and community. It made for a special night.” Taylor said.
Taylor, who began his coaching career in Ohio before moving to Arizona, and is now in his 25th season as the only head coach Centennial has ever had, hopes wins like this help Arizona’s perception across the country. “I’m proud of football in Arizona. We’ve improved greatly over the years. I would hope people have respect for teams out here.”
With more wins over nationally ranked teams, there will be no denying that football in the valley of the sun is on the rise.