As Peoria Centennial’s football team celebrated a Class 5A-II state championship that was just minutes old, Tucson Sunnyside’s players and coaches trudged off the University of Phoenix Stadium turf.
Heads bowed, eyes bleary with tears, the Blue Devils didn’t get a chance to admire the sparkling new facility or their NFL-style locker room following a 34-0 loss.
They barely had a chance to console each other before heading home.
Plucky Sunnyside experienced a new feeling Saturday night: Shock.
“I don’t know what happened,” Sunnyside coach Richard Sanchez said. “Our kids just kind of got in the tank. (Centennial) kept making plays and ours stopped making plays.”
Sunnyside tailback Jovan Stevenson couldn’t offer much insight after the team’s worst loss since 1995.
“They came to play, and we didn’t,” he said. “They beat us, mentally and physically.”
Maybe, but that was just in the second half.
For the first 24 minutes, the Blue Devils (11-3) played even with the Coyotes, trading long drives and defensive stops in front of a few thousand fans. Centennial, the state’s highest-scoring team, went into the locker room nursing a 7-0 lead but harboring doubts.
The Coyotes emerged a different team. Centennial received to start the second half. Three plays got them into Sunnyside territory, and quarterback Scott Burgett hit receiver Jarrell Barbour on a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Burgett hit Warren Johnson on a 62-yard touchdown strike on the first play of their next drive to make it 20-0.
Five minutes later, Burgett capped the scoring with a 5-yard bootleg run. Facing third-and-goal from the Devils’ 5-yard line, Burgett faked a handoff, rolled left, and raced a Blue Devils defender to the corner of the end zone.
“That was a momentum changer — the biggest momentum changer,” said Burgett, who completed 12 of 22 passes for 252 yards and three scores.
“After that . . . I think they were scared.”
Sunnyside’s players were in shock.
“Like a stab in the heart,” senior defensive back Marcus Laverty said. “It just went downhill from there.”