Bryce Perkins recently turned 16 years old, which means he was offered a football scholarship by Arizona State before he had his driver's license.
He's held the "keys" to Chandler's offense since spring, and the junior quarterback had the Wolves on cruise control much more often than not as No. 4 Chandler (Div. I) was too prolific for No. 3 Centennial (Div. II) in the Wolves' 41-21 win on Thursday night.
The cerebral Perkins already has aforementioned scholarships offers and was already drawing comparisons to former Wolves' standout QB Brett Hundley (now at UCLA). Those comparisons might not be fair for a few reasons, but the athleticism, speed and depth of Chandler's offense could be better than those years.
Flanked by sophomore running back Chase Lucas, Chandler (1-0) managed just fine while top receiver Dionte Sykes sat out while recovering from a broken hand. Lucas, the rare starting sophomore at Chandler, was intentionally kept mum by the Wolves' coaches in the offseason for the element of "surprise," and Centennial was the first victim trying to matchup with more than even the top-notch Coyotes could handle.
Perkins ran for 116 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. He also threw for 149 yards and another score, and ran Chandler's offense quickly and efficiently enough for the Wolves to pile up more than 400 total yards.
The last of those TD runs capped a two-minute drive which sealed the game for the Wolves after Centennial clawed back with a seven-minute drive to pull within 28-21 after three quarters.
"We ran the ball really well and the guys up front were great," Perkins said. "If we get everyone healthy and with (Lucas), we can be tough to stop."
The speedy Lucas ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. By game's end, a member of Chandler's football staff believed Lucas' was physically ahead of former Saguaro record-setting running back D.J. Foster at the same sophomore-year juncture.
Centennial (0-1) lost a lot of its key players from last year's Division II runners-up finish, but a big offensive line wasn't among the departures, and the Coyotes used grinding, time-consuming drives with its running game twice to pull within one possession.
But the Coyotes lost starting quarterback Jordan Suydam on a Hail Mary to end the first half with what appeared to be either a shoulder or arm injury. Daniel Smith ran the Coyotes in the second half, and afterward Centennial coach Richard Taylor said he didn't know the severity of Suydam's injury.
Centennial had trouble stopping Chandler for three of the four quarters (the Coyotes' handful of two-way starters prompted Chandler to use more of a hurry-up attack), while the Coyotes committed 10 penalties, lost two of its four fumbles and botched a punt snap which gave Chandler the ball deep in Centennial territory in the first half.
"We haven't had that many points scored on us in a long time," Taylor said. "Give them credit, but a lot of times we did ourselves in."
Centennial took a 7-0 lead out of the gate, and both teams had trouble holding onto the ball early, But by late in the first quarter, the Wolves started to roll. Lucas' and Perkins' running mixed in with the occasionally play-action pass to give Chandler its yardage in chunks.
"We needed this," Wolves coach Shaun Aguano said, noting this was Chandler's most difficult season-opening opponent in several years with a difficult schedule looming. The Wolves are also figuring Centennial would eventually return to being the dominant force it's been for nearly a decade as the season rolls on.
Aguano said Dionte Sykes (his younger cousin, Elijah, caught a TD pass) will be back soon, possibly next week against Sierra Vista Buena. He said the plan is to get Sykes into game-speed action leading up to a matchup at powerful St. John Bosco (Calif.) in two weeks.
Perkins and the rest of the Wolves already looked better than up-to-speed.
"He's going to get better and better," Aguano said of his quarterback. "Bryce took control, and he's still growing up."
Chandler 41, Centennial 21
Centennial 7 7 7 0 -- 21
Chandler 14 14 0 13 -- 41
First downs: Cent. 18, Chandler 19
Rushing: Cent. 39-216, Chandler 31-269
Passing (Comp.-Att.-TD-INT): Cent. 12-28-203-1-2, Chandler 12-16-149-1-1
Fumbles: Cent. 4-2, Chandler 1-1
Penalties: Cent. 10-60, Chandler 3-35
Centennial -- Suydam 1 run (Navarro kick)
Chandler -- Perkins 21 run (Lucero kick)
Chandler -- Lucas 64 run (Lucero kick)
Chandler -- E. Sykes 21 pass from Perkins (Lucero kick)
Centennial -- Holly 41 pass from Suydam (Navarro kick)
Chandler -- Perkins 3 run (Lucero kick)
Centennial -- Young 2 run (Navarro kick)
Chandler -- Lucas 11 run (kick failed)
Chandler -- Perkins 7 run (Lucero kick)
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.