Peoria (Ariz.) Centennial went backward on its first two plays. Then, it moved fearlessly forward, taking advantage of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas mistakes.
And with a fast, physical defense matching the No. 3-ranked team in the nation on every move, the top high school football team in Arizona shocked the country.
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After Zidane Thomas finally broke free on a 56-yard touchdown in the final two minutes, Centennial (6-0) could breathe easy with a shocking 12-0 victory on Friday night, ending STA’s 14-game winning streak before an overflow crowd on the home side.
“Our coaches put a lot of work into the game,” Centennial coach Richard Taylor said. “It’s good when it pays off with a victory like this.
“The defensive coaches did a really good job. You really should be talking to (defensive coordinator) Andrew Taylor (Richard’s son). Not me.”
When Xavier Rojas kicked his second field goal of the game – a 29-yarder – after Centennial pounced on a fumbled by speedy Tavares Kelly Jr., on a beautiful high spiraling punt by first-year punter A.J. Jackson, the six points were the most anybody (even national powerhouse Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco) scored on the 3-1 Raiders.
When Thomas broke loose on the game-clinching touchdown run on third-and-one after Centennial was given 10 extra yards on a face mask, it was the first touchdown allowed this season by the defending Florida champion.
“We were trying to get guys in space, but the ball didn’t bounce our way,” St. Thomas Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said. “We had too many penalties. It was a very messy game.”
Both of Centennial’s field goals came after mistakes by STA.
First, running back Alex Escobar ran 25 yards and Centennial was given another 15 yards on a personal foul. Another 15-yard penalty set up Rojas’ 34-yard field goal with 1:26 left in the first quarter.
This was STA’s second game in five days after being interrupted for 24 days by Hurricane Irma.
The Raiders returned starting quarterback Curt Casteel from an injury. They relied on a short passing game to get fast playmakers in space. But Casteel could never find a rhythm and Centennial defenders, led by safety Jaydin Young, outside linebacker Jacob Franklin and defensive end Connor Knudsen, kept closing in.
“Coach Taylor did a phenomenal job, a great game plan,” Harriott said. “They had a great game plan. They came in here with a tremendous amount of energy.”
Taylor said state championships still take precedence over wins over top-10 nationally ranked opponents, but this was one of the biggest wins by an Arizona team in state history.
It put Centennial on the national map.
“I don’t think I’m in charge of deciding if it’s the biggest,” Taylor said.