Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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The final minute of the 2011 season has stuck with Centennial High coach Leon Evans and his returning players for the past nine months.
After scoring 20 unanswered points against Palo Verde High in the Sunset Regional semifinals, the Bulldogs allowed the deciding touchdown with about 38 seconds left.
It was Centennial’s second straight trip to the semifinals and the second time it went home disappointed by losing to Palo Verde.
“If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to figure out a way to get over that hump and finish the ball game,” Evans said.
Ranked No. 5 in the Sun’s preseason poll, Centennial is set up to contend for the title once again.
Trajan Pili, who has committed to BYU, is a force at defensive end as well as tight end. Fellow seniors Austin Turley (quarterback) and Coby Newton (running back) anchor the backfield behind an offensive line that returns three starters. And the offense also adds a new weapon in wide receiver/defensive back Brandt Honda, a transfer from Australia who hasn’t played football before.
“He’s very shifty and explosive,” Evans said of Honda. “We really like him as a returner, too.”
Nine months to stew on that loss to Palo Verde has done this year’s team a lot of good, Evans said. In camp, on the practice field and in the weight room, it’s been a very motivated group.
“We had a great summer after the bad taste with the way the year ended,” Evans said. “The kids were held accountable.”
However, Centennial’s new Southwest League may make delivering on that offseason work a bit more difficult. Three-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman should dominate the league.
Evans, though, sees the positives in that challenge. Not a lot of teams get a chance to play a nationally ranked team. Centennial will play one at least once and, most likely, twice. It’s what they do with that opportunity that will determine how they feel for the nine months after the season.
But first they get a crack at Palo Verde, which the Bulldogs host at 7 p.m. Friday to open the season.
“Anything short of making that regional final game is going to be a disappointment for us,” Evans said.