Chaparral hopes to reel in Centennial

Centennial quarterback Hayden Gavett will be one of many players Chaparral will need to slow to have a chance. Courtesy of Joe Wheat

Redlands may have provided a blueprint on how to score against Corona Centennial but other than Mother Nature, nobody has designed a way to stop its offense in recent years.

The latest coach to inherit that challenge is Ryan Tukua of Chaparral, whose Pumas are preparing to play the top-seeded Huskies in an Inland Division second-round game Friday night at Centennial.

While watching tape of the Huskies’ 49-35 victory last week against Redlands, he nearly blistered his thumb hitting the pause button.

“Centennial did not get stopped one time on offense,” Tukua said. “It seemed like they’d score within two minutes of getting the ball.”

Of course, the Pumas (7-4) have a few things going for them; a solid defense, a defensive coordinator, Stan Hunt, who recently coached at Centennial (10-1) and a history of knocking the Huskies off their perch.

The teams first met five years ago, in the same round and the same spot of the Inland Division bracket. Centennial, undefeated and the top-seeded team at the time, had no answer for Chaparral running back Talmadge Jackson, who rushed for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the 42-28 upset.

Centennial eliminated the Pumas from the playoffs the next two seasons but Chaparral earned some payback in 2009. After upsetting top-seeded Redlands East Valley in the second round (the same spot of the bracket as this season), the Pumas beat Centennial in an overtime thriller, 43-35. They completed their magnificent playoff run with a 13-7 victory against Southwestern League rival Vista Murrieta in the championship game.

That was the last time the Pumas had anything to celebrate against Centennial, however. The teams have met in nonleague play the last two seasons, with Centennial winning by a combined score of 94-26.

Tukua, a defensive coordinator at Chaparral before taking over as head coach this season, has been through the ups and downs of the rivalry. He says he believes the Pumas are much more prepared for this match up than when the teams met in Week 4, punctuating an 0-3 start. The Pumas followed up that loss with a 24-6 victory against Tesoro, which is still alive in the Pac-5 Division.

“We’ve been playing pretty good football the last eight weeks,” Tukua said. “We had a tough start, we weren’t executing at a high level, but we found the personnel and identified the type of team we had to be.”

Stopping the high-powered offense of Centennial, spearheaded by quarterback Hayden Gavett and running back Romello Goodman, will take a Herculean effort, but the Pumas have some quality athletes on the defensive side of the ball.

As expected heading into the season, the Pumas are led by Arizona State-bound strong safety C.J. Dozier, hard-hitting linebacker Joshua Ponder and beefy defensive tackle Teddy Queen. Then there's the unexpected contributions, such as the nine sacks from senior defensive end Damon Watkins and the big plays from junior linebacker Cameron Gamble, who was called up from the junior varsity early in the season.

Whether they can combine to stop the Huskies and add to the storied rivalry is a chapter that's yet to be written.