Centennial High's offense is just fine, thank you. On Friday night, however, in a virtually must-win situation, the host Golden Hawks' really big plays came from defense and special teams.
In a wild 56-33 victory over Tulare Union, Centennial returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and intercepted Redskins quarterback Oscar Reyes five times.
"We really strive to put all three together -- offense, defense and special teams," Centennial coach Bryan Nixon said. "We have some work to do on offense, but the other two really came through for us tonight."
The big blows came in the third quarter, after Tulare Union had just scored on Reyes' fourth touchdown pass to pull within 35-33. Noah Frazier took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards, right through the gut of the Redskins' coverage team, for a touchdown and a 42-33 lead for Centennial (2-3).
"Huge hole," Frazier said. "Beautiful blocking. Made my job easy."
Tulare Union (1-4) continued to move the ball -- Reyes finished with 303 yards passing and three touchdowns -- but three of the Redskins' next four possessions ended on interceptions. All three were initially tipped by a Centennial defender before being picked off.
"When we're in the weight room, coach Nixon will yell it out: 'Defense!'" Frazier said. "And we have to respond, 'Get the ball back!' because that's the defense's job. And that's what we did tonight."
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Golden Hawks put the game away with a 49-yard touchdown pass from Reagan Enger to Andrew Daughtery, followed by a Gabe Arteaga interception and 14-yard touchdown run from Enger that made it 56-33.
Enger accounted for five touchdowns, two rushing and three passing, and he had 191 yards passing and 63 on the ground. Daughtery finished with 103 yards receiving and two receiving touchdowns, plus Centennial's first touchdown, a 92-yard kickoff return that wiped away an early 6-0 Tulare lead.
The Redskins' biggest weapon was senior receiver Keonta Vernon, who finished with 11 catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns receiving, including a leaping 17-yard grab in the end zone on the final play of the first half that cut Centennial's lead to 28-26.
Earlier, Vernon (playing defensive back) stripped Enger, scooped up the fumble and returned it 26 yards for a defensive touchdown, then caught a two-point conversion pass that briefly gave Tulare a 20-14 lead. Centennial responded with a 58-yard drive, an interception and another quick touchdown to make it 28-20, part of a wild second-quarter sequence that included five touchdowns in six minutes.
At the end of it all, the Golden Hawks had an important victory.
School policy states that Centennial teams can only enter the Central Section playoffs if they have a .500 record or better. A loss Friday would have left the Golden Hawks needing a 4-1 mark in the Southwest Yosemite League, a slate that includes a game at state No. 5 Bakersfield.
"This was very important," Nixon said. "We needed to come out and play well."
Instead, Centennial is 2-3 -- with two of the losses coming to state top-10 team Mission Viejo and Central Section power Clovis -- and will carry momentum into next week's SWYL opener with Frontier, also 2-3.
"We've played a pretty tough preseason schedule," Nixon said. "It prepared us well for league. I don't think we'll see much we haven't already seen."