This time, there was no last-minute magic made by elusive Peoria Liberty quarterback Ryan Bendle.
Facing a fourth-and-10 at the Peoria Centennial 30 with less than a minute to play, sophomore outside linebacker D’Angelo Garcia tripped up Bendle with lots of space in front of him for a short gain.
Centennial could run out the clock and celebrate a wild 42-37 5A state semifinal football victory at Peoria.
The Coyotes, who move on to play Scottsdale Notre Dame on Dec. 2 at Arizona Stadium for the title, watched helpless in Week 10 when Bendle rallied Liberty from a two-touchdown deficit in the final two minutes for a 21-19 victory.
In that loss, senior running back Zidane Thomas lost a fumble in the final minute when Centennial was just trying to run out the clock, giving Bendle a chance to pull out the win.
Thomas was determined not to let that happened. He ran for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns, breaking tackles, stiff-arming defenders in order not to go out of bounds and one time hurdling a defender on his way into the end zone.
It was vintage Thomas.
“Yeah, it bothered me,” Thomas said about the fumble on the final week of the regular season against Liberty. “I felt I lost our team the game.
“It was on my shoulders tonight.”
Centennial moves on to the state title game after defeating Liberty.
Thomas’ first carry of the game went 78 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. He carried just seven times for 112 yards in the half. But then went off in the second half for 158 yards and two more TDs. In his 30-yard score on a fourth-and-1, he broke a tackle, found room along the sideline, broke another tackle, then hurdled the last man on his way into the end zone.
“There were runs out there where he looked like he was almost possessed,” Centennial coach Richard Taylor said.
– Liberty quarterback Ryan Bendle showed his elusive ability, finding receivers for big plays and extending series’ with his legs. He engineered scoring drives of 80, 62 and 75 yards in a back-and-fourth first half, as the teams were tied at 21 at the break.
Bendle found Greg Tremble on a 58-yard strike after rolling to his right until his receiver sprung open behind his man. Bendle later hooked up with running back Jett Kinsch on completions of 30 and 33 yards, leading to Kinsch’s 3-yard scoring run with 32 seconds left in the half that tied it.
Bendle used his legs and arm to slice through Centennial’s defense much of the night. After Centennial went up by 11 in the final quarter, he had runs of 16 and 6 yards and completed passes of 24 and 10 yards, before he took off for a 20-yard score that cut it to 42-37 with 5:01 left.
– Centennial quarterback Ruben Beltran and wide receiver Dylelan Miller connected on touchdowns of 34 and 9 yards in the first half. Miller hauled in the 9-yarder one-handed on a nice touch pass that led him perfectly.
Beltran was good on his feet, too. He had 32 yards rushing and completed 5 of 9 passes for 119 yards in the half.
Two years ago, Centennial let linebacker John Rincon emerge as a running back late in the season and his playoff performances keyed the Coyotes to the biggest-division state championship. Now, they’re letting outside linebacker Jordan Ware loose in the playoffs on offense. He made some nice reads and runs lining up at quarterback in wildcat. His 38-yard run led to Thomas’ 1-yard TD run that gave Centennial a 42-31 lead with 7:17 left.
The 37 points by Liberty were the most allowed by Centennial this season. Before that, Liberty’s 21 points were the most until Scottsdale Chaparral scored 27 in last week’s quarterfinal.
“Spectacular,” Taylor said of Bendle. “He was a man out there tonight. Pin-point accuracy throwing, and when we had them covered, he ran. It’s pretty tough to defend that.”