Centennial coach Richard Taylor talks with Coyote players after the team’s season-ending 47-27 Open Division quarterfinal loss Friday at Chandler High. The Coyotes took advantage of some Wolves mistakes to take the lead briefly in the third quarter, but Centennial's mistakes of its own in the fourth quarter contributed to the loss.
CHANDLER — Even with a whole offseason to think about what might have gone better in a playoff loss, the Centennial Coyotes football team has a lot to look forward to.
“We’re losing about 25 seniors, but a lot of underclassmen played this year,” CHS coach Richard Taylor said after his team’s 47-27 Open Division quarterfinal loss at Chandler High on Friday. “And a lot of those kids played hard tonight.”
Chandler advances to face in-city rival and No. 2 seed Basha on Saturday, Dec. 3, 6 p.m., in one Open semifinal, to be played at Dobson High School. No. 5 Saguaro at No. 1 Liberty in the other semifinal at Mountain Ridge High School at that same time.
Chandler dominated most statistical categories of Friday’s game as the No. 3-seed Wolves took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter and won going away. The hosts dominated much of the first half, too, before the No. 6-seed Coyotes used the third quarter to take the lead, aided by turnovers on three straight Chandler offensive possessions.
Centennial (8-3) scored on two of those turnovers.
An 89-yard fumble scoop and blazing runback by junior Noah Carter cut into what had been a 23-7 halftime deficit. A Kenny Worthy interception set up another short score, and 19-yard fumble return for a touchdown put the Coyotes up, 27-23, with 5:29 left to play in the third quarter.
However, the Coyotes had trouble sustaining much offense most of the night. The Wolves (9-2) dominated field position, especially in the fourth quarter, and took advantage of that and some special teams mistakes by the Coyotes.
Chandler went ahead for good early in the fourth quarter. A questionable pass-interference call near the goal line, on a Wolves 3rd-and-goal play, gave the hosts a 1st-and-goal on the Coyote 2-yard line, and the Wolves cashed in with a short touchdown pass from quarterback Dylan Raiola to Tyreeq-Styles Obichere.
A low snap led one Chandler possession starting at the CHS 1-yard line. A 45-yard punt return for a touchdown by Blake Heffron helped the hosts outscore the Coyotes 24-0 in the final period.
Chandler managed to stop the bleeding in terms of ending the turnovers; Centennial made the hosts cough up the ball four times Friday, compared to only one Coyote turnover.
“We trust our coaches,” Raiola said after the game. “And our coaches put us in a position to be successful.I think we just decided no one’s going to hand it to us. We have to go get it. We made plays when we needed to make plays.”
The play that resulted in the 19-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Centennial’s Aaron Monroe Jr. also resulted in an injury to one of Chandler’s main running backs, sophomore Xaviar Valdivia. He scored on a short run in the second quarter that helped the hosts build their halftime lead and ended up as their leading rusher on the night.
His 43 yards on the ground were nearly half of his team’s 91-yard rushing total in unofficial statistics. Raiola was, unofficially, 23-of-32 for 269 yards through the air with three TD passes and one interception. The Coyotes sacked him three times, all in the first half.
Effron, in addition to the punt return for a score, caught eight of Raiola’s passes for 85 yards. Obichere caught six passes for 90 yards, including a 40-yard floater TD in the second quarter that the Coyote secondary seemed to lose track of.
The Coyote offense struggled most of the night. Except for a drive that started on its own 42 that ended with a Kavaughn Clark 1-yard TD run early in the second quarter, the Coyotes had poor field position to start most drives, and couldn’t get their offense in gear.
Clark, a senior, ended his career with a 94-yard performance on 21 carries. His team rushed for 136 yards, but the three players who took snaps at quarterback for the Coyotes combined to go 3-for-23 passing for 55 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.
“You cannot make that many mistakes against a good team like that,” Taylor said, pointing toward the Chandler sideline. “Every time we made a mistake, we paid for it.”
Taylor said he thinks Centennial’s turnaround, going from 3-8 in 2021 to 8-3 this season, is a sign things are headed in the right direction.
“I think the culture (of winning) is back,” he said. “I think we’ll be even stronger next year.”
Friday, Nov. 25
Open Division playoffs — Quarterfinals
No. 3 CHANDLER 47, No. 6 CENTENNIAL 27
Centennial 0 7 20 0—27
Chandler7 160 24 —47
Scoring: Ch, 4:15 1st, Dylan Raiola 6 pass to Charles Ennis Jr. (Jacob Medina kick); Ce, 9:44, Kavaughn Clark 1 run (Brysen Gardner kick); Ch, 3:42 2nd, Raiola 40 pass to Tyreeq-Styles Obichere (Medina kick); Ch, 2:13 2nd, Xaviar Valdivia 3 run (Medina kick); Ch, 0:00 2nd, Medina 34 FG; Ce, 10:12 3rd, Noah Carter 89 fumble return (Gardner kick); Ce, 6:55 3rd, Aaden Nguyen 1 run (Gardner kick); Ce, 5:29 3rd, Aaron Monroe Jr. 19 fumble return (pass failed); Ch, 11:13 4th, Raiola 2 pass to Obichere (Medina kick); Ch, 8:47 4th, Ennis 1 run (Medina kick); Ch, 5:47 4th, Medina 31 FG; Ch, 5:02 4th, Blake Heffron 46 punt return (Medina kick).
Unofficial team statistics
Rushes-Yds: Ce 33-136; Ch 33-91. Passing: Ce 3-23-1—55; Ch 23-32-1—269. Total off.: Ce 191; Ch 360. 1st downs: Ce 12; Ch 22. Pen.-Yds: Ce 9-61; Ch 8-50. Punts-Avg.: Ce 8-32.38; Ch 4-38.0. Fumbles-Lost: Ce 4-0; Ch 4-3. Rec.: Ce 8-3; Ch 9-2.
Jason W. Brooks is an associate editor for the Daily independent.
He covers the Buckeye area and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Brooks is a well-traveled journalist who has documented life in small American communities in nearly all its time zones. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised there and in suburban Los Angeles, he has covered community news in California, New Mexico, Arkansas, Iowa, and Nebraska.