Everything was going Central High’s way.
The Grizzlies had scored late in the first half to tie the score at 14. Then they returned the opening kick of the second half to the 50.
Centennial (6-5), however, answered with its blitzing defense, sacked Nick Szpor on three straight plays and followed with a three-play, 63-yard drive for what proved to be the winning score in the No. 9-seeded Golden Hawks’ 21-14 win over the eighth-seeded Grizzles (5-6) in a Central Section Division I playoff opener Friday night at Koligian Stadium.
Andrew Hansen found running back Andrew Straw in the flat and he ran untouched down the sideline for the winning 47-yard score early in the third quarter.
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“Going down and scoring was just as equally as huge as the defensive stop there for us to open the second half,” Centennial coach Kevin Sneed said.
Two drives later, Central had moved inside the Golden Hawks 30 and was in position to again tie the score. But on a first-down run Szpor was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled to the sideline, where he took a big hit that knocked him out of the game.
Szpor finished 7-of -15 passing for 170 yards.
The Grizzlies turned to Jadon Williams, a 14-year-old who had quarterbacked the freshman team and had just three varsity practices. After a pass-interference call moved the ball to the Centennial 13, Williams’ pitch went over the head of Jordan Stanley and was recovered by the Golden Hawks with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
“Losing their quarterback really hurt them,” Sneed said. “We changed the way we ran our offense and we were just trying to run the clock out and keep the ball out of their hands.”
Over the final 14:22, Centennial ran 25 of the games’ final 33 plays and controlled the ball for all but 2 minutes, 28 seconds.
The Golden Hawks’ three-headed monster out of the backfield — with Hansen at quarterback teaming with Straw and fellow running back Hunter Giulietti — combined to run for 174 yards on 45 attempts.
Centennial’s defense, meanwhile, limited an athletic Central team to just 183 yards. Now, the Hawks will look for a repeat performance next Friday when they come back up Highway 99 for a date with No. 1 Edison.
“We’ve played Edison in the past and Centennial-Edison have been big games before,” Sneed said. “These guys know the history behind it and they know how good they are this year.”