Welcome to big-school football, Queen Creek Casteel.
A school poised to make the move not one but two levels up after capturing the 3A state championship last year got down by 35 points before putting up a fight in the end on Friday night in its first game with seniors and first game playing at 5A.
Top-ranked Peoria Centennial, the established 5A power, felt it needed to let the home team know how far it has to go to get to its level in a 42-19 win that ended the state’s longest active winning streak at 14 games.
Quarterback Jonathan Morris, who threw three touchdown passes in his first game as a varsity starter, felt disrespected by a national publication that had Centennial only eighth-best in Arizona to open the high school football season.
“We took this game personal,” Morris said. “We’re going to take every game personal. We’re going to try to beat everyone as much as we can.”
On a hot, muggy night before a full house, cramping became an issue. At one point, three safeties cramped up while Casteel’s offense finally got rolling behind quarterback Gunner Cruz in the final quarter. Cruz began finding openings in the middle of the field. Centennial’s speed flushed out everything Casteel tried in the first three quarters with a more horizontal offensive game plan. The run game got stuffed.
Casteel’s first touchdown in 5A came with 6:46 left when Cruz found Zach Nelson for a 15-yard touchdown.
In the final nine minutes, Cruz and Nelson put on a passing game clinic, hooking up 10 times and twice for scores, including an 8-yarder with 32 seconds left.
It might have looked meaningless, but it meant a lot for a young school that showed no quit against the established state power.
“This is the best we’re going to see early,” Cruz said. “We’re proud of our team. I thought our defense played well all night. We put them in bad position. They made some big plays, and it happens when you play a great football team.”
CHECK YOUR TEAM: Arizona high school football scores for Week One
Nelson feels like Casteel will grew from this.
“We’re not going to give up,” Nelson said. “In times of adversity, your true character comes out and our true character came out.”
Centennial coaches were not happy with the final quarter after the defending state champs had built a 35-0 lead on the strength of four Tawee Walker touchdowns.
Walker, who moved from Las Vegas this summer, wanted to show last year’s 3A champs that they weren’t ready for Centennial’s speed and punishing defense.
His 73-yard, catch-and-run score from Morris in the second quarter for a 13-0 lead reminded Centennial of what it had last year when Zidane Thomas ran through and around defenders on his way to a 2,000-yard season.
“They didn’t respect us,” Walker said. “I heard some people were doubting us. Like they were going to beat us. We knew what was going to happen.”
Big moments from the first week of Arizona high school football.
This is a different Centennial team than last year when Thomas was called on whenever the Coyotes needed a big play.
Walker isn’t quite at Thomas’ level. Not yet anyway. But Walker doesn’t need to be with so much speed on the roster.
Coach Richard Taylor can go more by committee than any time in the last four years in the backfield, featuring at times Jeiel Stark and Jaydin Young. Both showed off their speed on plays.
Morris, making his starting debut at quarterback, also showed off good wheels to get out of trouble and make something out of nothing. He threw three TD passes, including a 58-yarder to Young.
Young just played strong safety as a sophomore last year. But Young is being asked to run the ball on offense. Walker is being asked to play safety, as well.
On a hot, muggy night, Walker cramped up after his fourth score.
There was sloppy play, including five holding penalties, two by receivers, on Centennial.
Taylor knew what he was going to do after the game: make his players run to get them into better condition.
They’ve got national powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman coming to Centennial in two weeks.
“We just ran out of gas,” Taylor said. “That’s my fault. When you’re tired, you don’t care what the hell happens. If they score, they score. You just don’t have anything left. That won’t happen again.”
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