With the way Desert Pines had rolled through the season, Centennial had a simple goal in the Mountain Region championship game — get a lead and see how the Jaguars handle playing from behind.
Colton Tenney threw three touchdown passes to three receivers, including two in the first half to give the Bulldogs a two-score cushion, and their defense and running game took over from there in a 20-7 victory Saturday at Eldorado High School.
The Mountain Region championship game doubled as a Class 4A state semifinal, and the Bulldogs (12-1) will meet Liberty (9-5), a 42-24 winner over Bishop Manogue, at 12:10 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium. It’s the first time Centennial has reached the state championship game.
“I’m excited beyond belief,” Centennial coach Dustin Forshee said. “I’ve always been mellow and cool the whole year, but this is one I’m excited about.”
The Bulldogs’ Jordan Smith ran for 144 yards on 30 carries, and he and his offensive line got stronger as the game went on. Smith had five carries in the fourth quarter that resulted in first downs, which kept the clock moving and limited Desert Pines’ chances to come back.
“Our offensive line won that game. They played an amazing game,” said Tenney, who was 15 of 24 for 192 yards passing. “That’s a really talented front seven we just played, and they moved those guys all night. They kept them out of the backfield. Our offensive line deserves all of the credit in the world.”
One of those first downs came on a fourth-and-3 play and extended a drive that ended with Tenney’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Johnson with 8:31 left and restored Centennial’s two-score lead.
Smith also caught a touchdown pass when he broke wide open on a wheel route just before halftime to send the Bulldogs into the locker room with a 14-0 lead.
“It definitely felt like a big spark when we went up two scores,” Smith said. “It gave us a bunch of swagger. We usually don’t have that. It just felt like a crazy boost, and it felt good to be up against such a talented team.”
Desert Pines (11-1) has been a big-play offense all season, but the Bulldogs mostly took that away.
The Jaguars’ only explosive play came late in the third quarter when Darius Stewart popped a 42-yard touchdown run to bring them within 14-7.
“Our coaches put up a challenge to (our defense),” Forshee said. “Our kids love a challenge, so we put up a challenge to them, and they executed. All the talk was about how Desert Pines is a scoring team. They haven’t played from behind all year, and it’s that David vs. Goliath thing. Our kids are going to fight.”
Desert Pines sophomore quarterback Rjay Tagataese never looked comfortable. He threw for 217 yards but was 14 of 34. He was intercepted by Nate Conger and Tyrone McCoy after entering the game with 29 touchdown passes against one interception this season.
The first interception came in the end zone and thwarted the Jaguars’ 12-play opening drive. The second was on the first play of the fourth quarter and a one-possession game.
Centennial took the lead after its first interception with a 90-yard drive, capped by an 11-yard TD pass from Tenney to Gerick Robinson.