SURPRISE — Anyone who has watched Centennial junior Jaydin Young play this season ends up asking the same question.
“What can’t this guy do?”
Needing an early spark, Young scored on an electrifying 95-yard kickoff return then recovered a fumble and later blocked a field goal as the top-seeded Centennial Coyotes claimed a 48-13 victory over the fifth-seeded Higley Knights in a 5A state semifinal on Friday night at Willow Canyon High School.
“Shout out to the kickoff return team — I got a great block from Jeiel (Stark) down the field that allowed me to go all the way,” Young said. “That was one of the best halves I’ve ever played but I couldn’t do it without my teammates.”
Centennial Head Coach Richard Taylor continues to marvel at his “Swiss Army knife” kick returner, running back and defensive back.
“Jaydin was not happy with the touchdown Higley scored so he did something about it,” Taylor said. “He does things like that all the time.”
There was breaking news early in the game as the Knights efficiently took the ball down the field and scored as Higley QB Spencer Brasch, a Cal commit, found receiver Jaxen Gibbons over the middle from 12 yards out just three minutes into the game. Centennial, playing in its 14th state semifinal in the past 15 years, trailed for the first time this entire 2018 season.
“Is that right?” Taylor asked after the game.
Centennial linebacker Dylan Wampler said the early deficit provided a wake-up call.
“It was a bit of a shock but we knew they could score,” Wampler said. “Brasch is a good QB and Higley is a good team. But we stuck to our game plan, trusted our coaches and came back strong.”
Centennial's Dyelan Miller runs with the ball after making a catch against Higley during a 5A semifinal game on Friday at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps][/caption]There was no panic among the Coyotes as Young equalized. On the ensuing kickoff, the speedster fielded the ball at his own 5, found some blocking and motored down the right sideline for a momentum-changing score. Juaquin Rodriguez’s PAT knotted the game at 7-7.
“That was deflating,” Higley Head Coach Eddy Zubey admitted. “We had the lead and very quickly it was gone.”
Centennial’s defense then started to find its footing. After a three-and-out for the Knights, it took the Coyotes just two plays to take the lead. Tawee Walker dashed for 23 yards then Davon Fountain found tremendous blocking from the Coyotes’ “Big Beauties” up front, darting into the end zone from 18 yards away. Rodriguez added the PAT and Centennial led 14-7 midway through the first.
Connor Knudsen notched a sack of Brasch on the next series and Higley punted. Stark and Dyelan Miller caught passes from Coyote QB Jonathan Morris as Centennial looked to extend its lead. This time, Walker went out in a pass pattern and Morris found him over the middle for a 24-yard TD strike. The PAT made it 21-7 with 2:13 left in the first quarter.
The Knights needed a jolt and got it as running back Diamante Rule and receiver Coleman Owen made big plays to take the ball inside the red zone. But on third down at the 17, Higley fumbled and Young, also a standout safety, nabbed the loose ball to stop the drive.
“That one also really hurt,” Zubey said.
The teams exchanged punts before Young made another huge play, taking a middle screen 58 yards to the Higley 27 yard line. Eric Haney nabbed a 12-yard pass and Walker finished the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run.
Higley continued to gain yardage but was frustrated when attempting to score. On the final play of the first half, kicker Dalyn Enderle lined up for a 45-yard attempt but Young came screaming around the end and easily blocked the low-trajectory kick. At the half, Centennial led 28-7.
The Coyotes put things out of reach as the second half began. The defense forced a Higley punt and Miller took a screen pass from Miller 43 yards down the sideline to the Higley 3. A play later, Walker bounced in to the end zone for the third time on the night. Rodriguez’s kick gave the Coyotes a 35-7 cushion.
The Knights continued to push and moved inside the Coyotes 10 but failed on fourth down. Brasch underthrew his receiver and began to show signs of frustration.
“Our D-line was pounding and our secondary was making it very difficult to pass,” Wampler said.
Taylor said the Centennial defense was wearing down Higley.
“Coach Andrew Taylor had some tricks up his sleeve — some stunts and blitzes we have not used and they paid off. We started getting pressure and once that happens, it can be difficult for the quarterback to shake that off,” Taylor said. “And our defensive line did well enough that we didn’t have to blitz all the time to get pressure on Brasch.”
Centennial’s defense still has not allowed a point in the third quarter in 13 games this season.
As the fourth quarter began, Centennial faced fourth-and-6 at its own 36. A.J. Jackson lined up in punt formation but instead took off down the field on a fake. He was barely touched on his way to a 64-yard touchdown that had the sizable Centennial crowd ecstatic — the PAT failed but the Coyotes were up 41-7.
Haney later capped Centennial’s scoring with a 10-yard jet sweep for a TD, the final points on a 48-0 scoring run. Brasch took a seat and his backup, junior Matthew Purnell, fired a 59-yard TD strike to Owen for Higley’s second score with 4:26 left in the game.
Walker ended the game with 7 carries, 97 yards and three TDs (2 rushing, 1 receiving). There was one rushing score each for Fountain (9 carries for 91 yards), Jackson and Haney while Young tallied the kickoff return for a score.
“The best thing about this running back group is they cheer for and encourage each other,” Taylor said. “They push each other to try to get better.”
Morris was an effective 10-of-15 for 176 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT.
Brasch, who entered the contest with a state-best 44 TD passes, threw just one against Centennial. He was 20-for-31 for 266 yards. Owen caught 10 passes for 178 yards and a score.
Centennial rolled up 471 total yards compared to Higley's 331. Plagued by flags in multiple games this season, the Coyotes committed just three penalties against Higley.
Despite the defeat, Zubey was proud of his Knights and also complimentary of the Coyotes.
“That’s a good team, a good program — really what we aspire to be,” Zubey said. “We did some good things this year in our first time in 5A. These seniors have meant a lot to us and they definitely raised the bar. The future is bright.”
The semifinal win propels Centennial (13-0) to a familiar place — the 5A state finals. The Coyotes, winners of 17 straight, will face a familiar foe — third seeded Notre Dame Prep (13-0), the team Centennial beat in last year’s 5A title game to claim its 6th state championship. NDP outlasted #2 Williams Field 21-14 on Friday night in the other 5A semifinal.
The championship rematch is set for 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1 at ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium.
“We will prepare for Notre Dame Prep like we have prepared for everyone,” Young said. “We will be ready.”
Higley's Spencer Brasch (#13) runs with the ball against Centennial during a 5A semifinal game on Friday at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps][/caption]CENTENNIAL 48 HIGLEY 13
SCORE BY QUARTERS
H – Jaxen Gibbons 12 pass from Spencer Brasch (Dalyn Enderle kick)
C – Jaydin Young 95 kickoff return (Juaquin Rodriguez kick)
C – Davon Fountain 18 run (Rodriguez kick)
C – Tawee Walker 24 pass from Jonathan Morris (Rodriguez kick)
C – Walker 15 run (Rodriguez kick)
C – Walker 3 run (Rodriguez kick)
C – A.J. Jackson 64 run (kick failed)
C – Eric Haney 11 run (Rodriguez kick)
H – Coleman Owen 59 pass from Matthew Purnell (kick blocked)