The CIF-Southern Section Inland Division championship game is upon us, and it couldn’t arrive soon enough. In a much-anticipated rematch of last season’s title game, Vista Murrieta is scheduled to host defending champion Corona Centennial on Friday at 8 p.m. Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of what to look for and which team likely owns the edge.
Centennial senior Hayden Gavett had some big shoes to fill this season but has performed beyond expectations. He enters the game with 2,051 passing yards and 19 touchdowns, along with 1,009 rushing yards and 16 scores. Vista Murrieta junior Nicholas Stevens is another first-year starter who took over for a graduated Pac-12 Conference recruit. Stevens has shown great progress during the postseason and enters with 1,558 passing yards and 12 touchdowns, plus an additional 798 yards and eight scores on the ground. He has just one turnover in the last eight games. Advantage: Centennial.
It has been a while since the Inland Empire has seen a running back go on a postseason tear like Romello Goodman of Centennial. He has rushed for 993 yards and 15 touchdowns during the playoffs, eclipsing the 300-yard barrier in all three victories. He enters the game with 2,581 rushing yards, which betters the 15-game total of teammate Barrington Collins last season. He's tied with Collins with 42 touchdowns. The Broncos spread the ball around much more on offense. Stevens is always a threat to run, while Aaron Piecukonis is usually called on to get the tough yards early on. The big-play artist, goal-line specialist and late-game closer is Su’a Cravens, who has 14 touchdowns in 72 carries this season. Advantage: Centennial.
Issac Crandall and Chase Krivashei have been the go-to guys when Centennial feels like throwing the ball. Crandall, a transfer from Roosevelt, has 33 receptions for 580 yards and eight touchdowns. Krivashei has caught 37 balls for 596 yards and six scores. The best receiver for Vista Murrieta is Cravens, but he can’t play everywhere so his opportunities are usually limited. Darion Williams is another skilled two-way player who uses his athleticism to make plays when needed, and Cody Piecukonis demonstrated his big-play abilities in a 39-18 semifinal victory last week against second-seeded Upland. Advantage: Vista Murrieta.
Corona Centennial returned four starters up front from last season’s state bowl team. Though they struggled early on with some position changes, they’re firing lately. Lio Lafaele, John Hamilton, Cameron Hunt and Anthony Juarez can take a lot of credit for Goodman’s surge in production. Vista Murrieta senior Corey Whitaker, on his own, is better than any linemen for Centennial. The 6-5, 270-pound tackle will likely repeat as an all-Inland Division selection. The Broncos have a nice anchor on the other side in Sapule Ta’amilo but overall aren’t as deep and talented in the trenches as the Huskies. Advantage: Centennial.
Centennial defensive tackle Milo Jordan hasn’t had the type of senior season many expected. Jordan, the former Arizona State-commit who re-opened his recruiting last month, is still a force to be reckoned with. Running on the other side isn’t any easier, as Ngata Tuihalamaka has been firmly holding down his end of the line. Vista Murrieta is led by Oregon-commit Jeremy Castro, a relentless pass rusher who has 11 sacks this season after totaling 11 a year ago. Advantage: Centennial.
The Huskies have done a good job funneling ball carriers into the middle of the field and Edem Nassar has been a strong finisher, averaging a team-high 8.3 tackles. Cravens plays a hybrid position that's a combination of strong safety and outside linebacker. He has been spending a lot of time near the line of scrimmage lately, however. The 6-2, 210-pound junior has 10 sacks this season, three interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and four caused fumbles. He had eight sacks and five fumble recoveries last season. Bryce Smith, a 5-11, 195-pound junior middle linebacker, averages an impressive 13.2 tackles a game for the Broncos. Advantage: Vista Murrieta.
Since the Huskies usually force teams to play from behind, Izaac Colunga has been busy this season. He has five interceptions and 10 pass deflections to lead Centennial’s secondary, which has accounted for 11 picks in all. Vista Murrieta has hawked more than double Centennial