Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 | 11:40 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer preview all of the week's high school football action.
The Coronado High football team won two league games the past three seasons.
However, that was an old era of Cougars football, before first-year coach Brad Talich took over the program.
With Talich leading the way, Coronado is having its best season since the school opened in 2001. That season is going to last at least one more week.
Coronado’s Derrick Keller had a pair of touchdown runs Friday night against host Green Valley in the Sunrise Regional semifinals, and the Cougars' defense was stingy for most of the night in a 29-14 victory. Coronado advances to play two-time defending Sunrise champ Liberty in next week’s title game, which will also serve as the state semifinals. Yes, the Cougars, which before this year hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2005, are one of the final four teams remaining in the state.
And, if you ask the players, that has a lot to do with their coach. After all, Coronado has two playoff wins this year.
“Coach Talich has been our turnaround,” Keller said. “He has single-handedly turned the entire school around. The feeling around school is completely different. It’s like you are at a different place. It is amazing.”
Coronado, which improved to 9-2 overall, got redemption for one of its two defeats by eliminating Green Valley. Earlier in the season, Green Valley erased a 19-point deficit against Coronado in the fourth quarter to hand the Cougars a loss. Coronado also narrowly lost to Liberty, its opponent next week.
Coronado was determined to not let Green Valley get back into the game this time around.
The Cougars led 22-7 at halftime and their defensive front was consistently in the Green Valley backfield to force quarterback Christian Lopez into scrambling out of the pocket. Coronado also forced three turnovers.
Still, Green Valley was able to trim its deficit to 22-14 with 5:55 remaining when Lopez connected with Conor Perkins for a 7-yard touchdown.
But, just when it appeared Green Valley’s late-game magic would return, Coronado went on an 80-yard drive to ice the game. Keller scored on a 4-yard run with 2:30 remaining to seal the victory.
Seconds later, students in the Coronado crowd starting chanting Talich’s name in appreciation. Not only is this the best season in school history, the victory came against a neighborhood rival. Both sides of the stadium were packed, but you could argue there were more Coronado fans in attendance.
For them, Talich is the man of the hour. Just don’t tell that to the coach.
“It has been a big commitment from our senior class,” Talich said. “You have to hand it to our kids and our seniors who really went to work in the spring and summer. We got them to believe in what we are trying to do and turned around the mentality of being average and below average at Coronado to where they can be outstanding if they put their minds to it.”
Coronado wasted no time taking an early lead. On the second play of the game, quarterback Kevin Lucero found Brock Taeubel on a short pass, and Taeubel did the rest in racing down the sideline for a 78-yard touchdown. Coronado scored on its first three possessions — Keller and Jackson Cofer had scoring runs — in taking the lead for good.
Green Valley also scored on its initial possession when Lopez hooked up with Markus Varner for a 28-yard scoring strike. That was all the Coronado defense surrendered until late in the game, holding Green Valley to its second lowest scoring production of the year.
“We had to make an adjustment right after (their) first series,” Talich said. “Our kids just executed tonight and performed our game plan pretty well.”
The Coronado students stormed the field in celebration, cherishing the Cougars’ rare trip deep in the postseason. Now, they have a chance for redemption in the other game they lost this year — against Liberty, which posted a narrow 35-29 win in the first meeting.
The Coronado players are confident they can keep their season alive another week.
“For four years, we knew we could do it,” Keller said. “We knew we were something special. Now we have to go prove it to the city again next week.”