Behind a powerful running game and stifling defense, the top-ranked Centennial Coyotes notched their fourth win in two years over Mesa's Desert Ridge Jaguars, churning out a 35-7 victory in Friday night's Class 5A, Division 2 quarterfinals in Peoria.
Centennial star John Hughes gave the Coyotes prime field position to start the game, returning the opening kickoff down to the Jaguar 34. A twelve-yard run by the diminutive senior running back would be followed by a pass interference call on Desert Ridge, setting the Centennial offense up in the red zone. Hughes would gain eight on second and nine to advance the ball inside the Desert Ridge five-yard line, but would get stuffed on a short third-down run. The Coyotes would pass up a short field goal attempt on fourth down, where junior quarterback Dain McFarland was held up short of the first down marker.
Desert Ridge's prolific passing offense would take the field at their own three-yard line, and would gain 20 yards without running a play-Centennial would be flagged for an offsides penalty on first-and-ten, immediately followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct flag against the Coyotes. It was the most prolific offense the Jaguars would have on that first series, as sophomore quarterback Kevin Pantastico would miss on three consecutive passes to return possession back to Centennial.
With the ball on their own 45, the Coyote ground attack would quickly go back to work, spearheaded by a 37-yard sprint by junior running back Anthony Hughes. Older brother John would finish off the drive with a score, dashing in from two yards out. Ryan Shaugher's extra point gave Centennial a 7-0 lead with under five minutes left in the first quarter.
Desert Ridge's second offensive series would be as short as the first, with senior defensive back Gabe Prieto picking off Pantastico and returning it to the Desert Ridge 40. Centennial would again find themselves inside the Jaguar 20, but would be denied their second score of the night when junior receiver Sean Dumdie fumbled on the Desert Ridge five-yard line.
Senior Javier Sanchez would give Desert Ridge some breathing room, powering the Jaguars to a first down on three straight runs. Sanchez would pick up another first down on a third-and-four later in the series, but a pair of five-yard penalties against the offense would put an end to a promising drive. Following the punt Centennial took over on their own 25.
The Coyote offense would march down the field behind a pair of third-down conversions-McFarland would connect with John Hughes for an 18-yard gain on third-and-ten, and then hit senior Justin Callahan for a 15-yard pick up on third-and-seven. Faced with a second-and-seventeen in Jaguar territory Kyle Coffey would advance a McFarland shovel pass to the eleven, where John Hughes would tote the ball the rest of the way for the score. Centennial would not convert the extra point as the lead stood at 13-0.
After establishing some success throwing the ball to senior Chris Heldore Pantastico would be intercepted for the second time of the night, this time by John Hughes. With a lot of open field in front of him, Hughes would return the pick all the way, and Centennial threatened to break the game open with a 20-0 lead.
In an attempt to slow the bleeding Desert Ridge would play relatively conservative on their last series of the half, being forced to punt briefly after taking over on their own 20. The snap would sail over the head of punter Jordan Banas who, after retreating to cover-up the ball in the end zone, was dropped for a safety by Centennial's Matt Boone. Centennial would once again march into Jaguar territory on their ensuing drive, resulting in a missed field goal attempt. At halftime Centennial held a commanding 22-0 lead.
Desert Ridge would continue to run into offensive mistakes in the second half, losing a fumble on their own 36 to start the second half. Faced with a second-and-fourteen following an offensive pass interference call, McFarland would throw towards the end zone only to be picked off by Desert Ridge senior Chris Jamison. Weaving and sprinting around Centennial personnel, Jamison would put Desert Ridge on the board for the first time of the evening, closing the Centennial lead to 22-7.
A Centennial penalty on Jamison's return had the Jaguars kicking off inside Centennial territory, giving Desert Ridge their best field position of the night when they successfully recovered an onside kick. Centennial's defense would not allow them to get any closer, as Jimmie Lewis and Reggie Umuolo would both drop Pantastico for a loss on the series.
The third quarter concluded with Centennial's 22-7 lead in tact.
Centennial would ride the running of the Hughes brothers to build on their lead in the fourth quarter, as the tandem took advantage of another short field to reach the Desert Ridge red zone. Anthony Hughes would pound the ball in from the 20, first running for 17-yards immediately followed by a three-yard scoring romp and a 28-7 lead. On the Coyotes' next possession John Hughes would score his fourth touchdown of the game to wrap up scoring.
Centennial continues to be a nearly insurmountable hurdle for an improved Desert Ridge program, as the Coyotes held the Jaguar offense for the second time this season (both touchdowns scored by the Jaguars were courtesy of long interception returns). John Hughes appeared to be working harder for his yards than usual against the stout Desert Ridge front line, though Anthony Hughes took advantage by having his best rushing output of the year.
The Hughes brothers combined for all five Centennial touchdowns while racking up close to 300 yards rushing between them.