As the final seconds ticked away in the Mountain Region semifinal Friday night, Centennial junior Gerick Robinson yelled to defensive backs coach Willie White, “What are you doing on Thanksgiving, coach?”
To which White answered exuberantly: “Practicing!”
The Bulldogs advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals with a 44-7 blowout over visiting Palo Verde. Centennial will face Desert Pines at 4 p.m. Nov. 30 at Eldorado.
Unlike their regular-season meeting on Oct. 24, when the Northwest League rivals combined for 1,073 yards and 86 points in a 50-36 Centennial win, the Bulldogs dominated in every facet Friday. Centennial outgained Palo Verde 354-158, the defense registered three interceptions and a safety, and Robinson set the tone by retuning the game’s opening kickoff 58 yards.
“Even though we won against Palo the last time, they were kind of (upset) because (Palo Verde) got 36 points,” Centennial coach Dustin Forshee said. “They really zoned in and took it personal this week that they wanted to make a statement.”
And they did.
Palo Verde’s offense was 0-for-7 with its third-down conversions and couldn’t make it past midfield until the fourth quarter, when the game was well out of reach.
“I think it starts with the defensive line. They stop the run, so it forces them to pass, and with the pressure on the quarterback, the DBs get the work,” said Centennial safety Ronaven Mokiao, who had two interceptions. “Every week the focal point is about the defense. Offense always does its thing, but defense is the reason we get places. We have to give our offense opportunities to get the ball in the end zone.”
Which the Bulldogs wasted no time in doing, as Robinson plowed in from five yards out just three plays after his game-opening return. After forcing Palo to punt on a three-and-out on its first possession, it was quarterback Colton Tenney displaying an incredible display of strength under duress while in the clutches of a defender. As he was being brought down, Tenney found Robinson, who finished the 40-yard catch-and-run in the end zone to put Centennial ahead by two touchdowns.
The defense chipped in with a safety a minute later, when Troy Miller sacked Palo Verde quarterback Paul Myro in the end zone, and the romp was on.
The Bulldogs added three touchdowns in the second quarter, with Jordan Smith racing in for two 8-yard touchdowns and Tenney adding a 1-yard plunge just before the half.
“Our defense has been making big plays all year forcing turnovers and they’ve put us in a lot of good positions, and anytime it’s a complete game it makes the job of the offense very easy,” said Tenney, who completed 7 of 11 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown. “Good field position, extra possessions, stuff like that really sets us up for success.”
Smith led the rushing game with 85 yards on 12 carries, including his two touchdowns. Tenney ran for two touchdowns.
Myro, who threw for 1,136 yards this season, struggled under pressure all night and finished with just two completions on 12 attempts for 44 yards before being replaced by Jacob Gosz-Siqueiros, who closed out the game under center.
Panthers running back Charron Thomas ran for 85 yards on 17 carries to lead the offense, while Gosz-Siqueiros had Palo Verde’s only score, a 5-yard run late in the game.