Add another "d" word to Centennial's trademark depth and defense — destiny.
For most of the season, state high school football pundits thought the 5A-II title would be decided in a second matchup of Desert West Region rivals Centennial and Avondale Westview.
The familiar foes will battle for the fourth time in two seasons at 4 p.m. Dec. 12 in University of Phoenix Stadium. Westview (12-1) punched its ticket by halting Tempe Marcos de Niza (11-2) on a late drive in the red zone to win 14-7.
"We have a great respect for them," Centennial coack Richard Taylor said. "I would expect a great game."
The Coyotes' drive for a third straight state title remains smooth, as they wore down Tucson Ironwood Ridge (10-3) 41-14 Friday night in a bit of an odd game at an odd place for both teams — Chandler High School.
Centennial (13-0) nearly ran the Nighthawks out of the stadium early, scoring 14 points in the first 80 seconds of play. And the offense had very little to do with the fast start.
Senior John Hughes returned the opening kickoff 90 yards, setting the tone for his jack-of-all trades night. On Ironwood Ridge's second offensive play, senior defensive back Brad Williams intercepted sophomore quarterback Tyler Damore and returned the pick 37 yards to the Nighthawks 5 yard line.
Hughes took a pitch to the right and scored his second touchdown on the next play.
"Our kids were so pumped up after waiting two weeks," Taylor said. "If we didn't get them on the field, they were going to hurt us."
On the next defensive series Centennial looked ready to bury the Nighthawks but were on the wrong end of the next major swing in momentum. On a third down and seven play, senior defensive end Jimmie Lewis sacked Damore and forced a fumble.
The play was nullified by a personal foul on the Centennial defense. Damore rebounded quickly, hitting wide open senior tight end Ray Cottman for a 68-yard touchdown on the ensuing play.
After three touchdowns in the first three minutes and 21 seconds of play, both teams regrouped and showcased stout running defense. Centennial could do nothing on offense and punted. Ironwood Ridge patiently moved the ball down the field before a false start penalty nixed a fourth down attempt.
The next Coyote drive stalled near midfield. Behind their big line, the Nighthawks ground out a first down, but were soon stopped on a short-yardage attempt. Centennial was not allowing junior tailback Adrian Brahler or senior fullback Jacob Fischer much space.
On the other end, though, Ironwood Ridge slowed the Hughes brothers. John was limed to 17 yards on eight first-half carries, while Anthony gained 20 on four carries.
Junior quarterback Dain McFarland and his vast array of targets were ready to shoulder the burden,as the team had talked about in practice.
"They have a very good defense and we thought we might have to throw more than usual." McFarland said. "I like having the pressure."
On a third-down play from Centennial's 42, McFairland threw 30 yards for senior tight end Paul Sanchez, who hauled it in along the sideline. Anthony Hughes followed by high-stepping out of a tackle and churning out 13 yards. Another third-down pass gave the Coyotes breathing room.
"Paul Sanchez had his very best game," Taylor said.
Junior fullback Austin Arias slowly leaked out of the backfield on third and five from the 13. McFarland tossed a short pass to Arias, who sneaked untouched into the end zone.
Centennial took a risk on its next drive, attempting a fourth and one play from its own 45. John Hughes gained three yards to keep the drive going. McFarland's next two passes were textbook throws — and were dropped.
On third down, he launched a bomb to his most sure-handed receiver. Senior tight end Justin Callahan made a leaping grab and was forced out at the 1. Hughes barely pushed the ball over the goal line on the following snap.
A botched extra point left Ironwood Ridge down by 20 with 89 seconds before halftime. The Nighthawks quickly made their stand.
Damore found his favorite target, senior wide receiver Scott Campbell, over the middle. He fought off a Centennial defender and broke free. Several Coyotes caught up with Campbell at the two and forced a fumble, but Brahler fell on the ball in the end zone.
Senior Justin Laszczak's onside kick hopped high over Centennial's first wave, and freshman Mitchell Fischer grabbed the ball at the Coyotes' 34. Centennial's defense would not allow the Nighthawks to close the gap, as Ironwood Ridge lost two yards on its next four plays.
"Our coaches do a great job picking us up on the sideline when we're in tough situations," senior defensive tackle Jack Ramsey said.
Ironwood Ridge started the second half looking to its lone big-play threat again. Damore threw the ball into coverage and Campbell adjusted his body and jumped perfectly, nabbing the 38-yard pass at Centennial's 40.
With Brahler limited to 21 rushing yards and Jacob Fischer held to 13 yards, this combination was the Nighthawks only chance. Damore completed nine of 15 attempts for 251 yards, and Campbell caught four for 163 yards.
"Several times we had someone on him and he went up and made the catch. You have to give him credit," Taylor said.
The defensive snuffed out Ironwood Ridge's final threat on the next play. Arias filled a gap and forced a fumble, which John Hughes recovered. In a game where both teams tried many formations, Arias made the key play from the Coyotes' basic 4-3 look.
"He just read it and filled the gap," defensive coordinator Andrew Taylor said.
McFarland's next big third down play was a middle screen to Anthony Hughes, who weaved 34 yards through the defense. John Hughes added another key short-yardage play, battling for eight yards on a fourth-and-two from Ironwood Ridge's 17.
Then it was time for another successful screen variant. McFarland rolled right, chased by three Nighthawks. He turned and lofted the ball over the rushers to Sanchez, who followed a convoy of offensive linemen for an easy score with 6:25 left in the third quarter.
"Once we started passing a lot, they recognized that I was rolling out and they started flowing to the ball," McFarland said. "Our coaches recognized that and called more screens."
Mitchell Fischer bobbled a pitch on Ironwood Ridge's next play and junior linebacker Austin Garady fell on the ball at the 8. Two plays later, John Hughes tallied his fourth touchdown, this time from six yards out.
The scoring was finished, but the Coyote defense wasn't. John Hughes and junior cornerback Kyle Coffey picked off underthrown balls by Damore late in the third quarter — the fourth and fifth turnovers forced by Centennial. Senior defensive end Josh Bell and Lewis picked up back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore backup tailback Jebron Harrington shined in the fourth quarter and ended up with the team rushing lead, gaining 73 yards on 12 carries. John Hughes chipped in 50 yards on 16 carries, with Anthony Hughes added 30 yards.
Still, the McFarland and his bevy of targets led the way. Completing passes to six players, McFarland went nine for 18 for 179 yards in three quarters of work.
""I have faith in all our receivers. We have a lot of weapons," McFarland said.