Corona Centennial blazing a familiar path

LONG BEACH -- The drive to The Grand hotel should be a familiar one for Corona Centennial football coach Matt Logan, yet he might need a GPS the next time he makes the 40-mile trek.

“I think we’ve taken a different way every time,” he said Monday at the Southern Section football luncheon, an annual get-together that recognizes the teams that qualified for this weekend’s championship games.

The Huskies have had a table at the event seven of the last 12 years. They arrive so regularly, they might as well save their nameplate for next December.

This season’s group will travel to Vista Murrieta on Friday night for the Inland Division championship game. It’s a rematch of last season’s final, won by Centennial, 45-21. The top-seeded Huskies are 6-0 in section championships, but remain leery of an opponent that’s loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.

“They’re a very good team,” Logan said of the Broncos. “They’ve got some great athletes mixed in with what they do already. It’ll be a challenge for us.”

So far, the biggest obstacle for the Huskies has been themselves. Led by first-year starters at quarterback and running back, the offense faced some early adversity and a pinch of self doubt, but responded by scoring 41 points or more in the last 11 games.

Looking back, the turning point seems crystal clear.

After blowing a six-point halftime lead in the season opener and scoring just seven points in the second half of a 29-27 loss to visiting St. Bonaventure, the Huskies trailed Mater Dei by two touchdowns midway through the third quarter the following week, again with just seven points on the scoreboard.

The coaching staff looked at one another and just shook their heads.

“We were kind of at our wit’s end,” Logan said. “As coaches, we were like, ‘What are we doing here? It looks like we haven’t been practicing, or doing anything.’ "

But the Huskies finally found their rhythm behind quarterback Hayden Gavett and running back Romello Goodman and pulled out a 28-20 victory. The Huskies haven’t come close to losing since.

“In my mind, that was a complete turning point for us,” Logan said. “We mounted that comeback and things kind of clicked from there.”

Getting the mental part of the game under control was the biggest hurdle.

"We made a lot of mental mistakes, so we cleared those up,” Gavett said.

Gavett, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior, has been instrumental in the team’s success, throwing for 2,051 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions, and rushing for 1,009 yards and 16 scores. What has especially impressed the coaching the staff is his decision-making abilities.

The Huskies (12-1) operate an up-tempo no-huddle spread offense that requires the quarterback to call plays and options based on what he sees from the defense at the line of scrimmage. The rest of the offense then reads the play off note cards inserted on their wristbands.

“Hayden makes one to two decisions on every play and it’s almost always right,” Logan said. ”It’s been phenomenal.”

The other key to uncorking the offense was getting the line stabilized. Returning starters Lio Lafaele, John Hamilton, Cameron Hunt and Anthony Juarez were considered the strength of the offense heading into the season, but they struggled early on with procedural penalties and missed blocking assignments.

The coaches had changed the positions of a few offensive linemen and didn’t realize the adjustment it would take, especially with such a high-octane, fluid offense as Centennial’s.

“I underestimated maybe the value of returning in that same spot.” Logan said. “That was something that was interesting for us.”

Goodman, a 5-5, 165-pound senior, has been the beneficiary of the cohesiveness up front. He has rushed for 993 yards and 15 touchdowns in three playoff games, eclipsing the 300-yard mark each time.

“They’re playing a lot better,” Goodman said of the line. “We moved some guys around and they’ve settled into their positions and are more used to it now. Our O-line has just picked it up.”

After losing the season opener, it was believed the Huskies probably wouldn’t be invited back to the state bowl championship for a fourth season, but their return to form and the upset of top-seeded Servite in the Pac-5 quarterfinals has opened the door for a possible return to Home Depot Center.

That’s still a little too far down the road for Logan and his players.

“Right now, we have to focus on Vista Murrieta,” Gavett said. “If you don’t get past them, then there’s nothing after that.”

The Huskies don’t need a map to figure that out.