No matter your outlook, Centennial had a little something for everyone in a 28-21 loss to Clovis on Friday night.
Optimist? The young Golden Hawks pushed a two-time defending league champion to the brink, losing only because they couldn't convert three red-zone opportunities and ran out of time.
Pessimist? Centennial punished itself time and again, committing four turnovers, making a couple of crucial penalties and blowing some pass coverage that gave the game to Clovis.
"It was the combination of all of that," first-year Centennial coach Kevin Sneed said. "I'm really proud of the way we battled. We showed a lot of heart -- but we had a lot of mistakes and gave up some huge plays."
Clovis (2-1), which has won or shared the powerful Tri-River Athletic Conference title each of the past two seasons, led 20-14 after a wild first quarter in which the teams combined for 382 yards and five long touchdowns. The Cougars scored on the first play from scrimmage, a 76-yard pass from R.J. Hartmann to running back Marlon Watkins.
Hartmann, who had 223 of his 326 passing yards in the first quarter, also had early touchdown passes to Mark Rivera for 62 yards and to Fabian Serna for 74 yards. By that time, Clovis had a 20-7 lead and Centennial looked lost.
"We blew coverages," Sneed said. "The safety doesn't get over to cover the man out of the backfield. I mean, we have sophomores back there. Those kids are battling, but we're just an inexperienced team."
Centennial righted the ship, with Andrew Hansen hitting Malcolm Johnson for a 46-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. The Golden Hawks then controlled the clock for much of the second quarter, but they missed a field goal and, again in the red zone, failed to score from the 1-yard line thanks to a substitution penalty, a dropped pass and a lost fumble.
"We just have a finishing problem," said senior Noah Frazier, who ran for 70 yards and a first-quarter touchdown. "We're getting closer and closer, but we're making the same mistakes."
Like the team as a whole, Hansen was at times brilliant. He passed for 231 yards and a touchdown, ran for 102 yards and another score and helped the Golden Hawks control the clock for most of the night. But he also had a hand in all four Centennial turnovers.
The Golden Hawks (1-2) briefly took the lead, 21-20, with a 14-play, 73-yard third-quarter drive, but Clovis answered on its next drive, with Hartmann scoring from 2 yards out. The Cougars converted the two-point conversion on Alan Crowley's run.
"Hey, it's hard to win down here," Clovis coach Rich Hammond said. "It's hard to take a two-hour bus ride, disrupt your rhythm and get a win. But this was a good building experience for our team."
Clovis then stopped Centennial twice in the final minutes, once on downs from the Clovis 14-yard line, and again when Nick Nevills recovered Hansen's fumble at the Clovis 26.
"We just felt like we should have whooped them," Frazier said. "They're not better than us. We should have put it on them. But they were a little more disciplined when it mattered."
Hammond said that on film, Centennial was "night and day" better between Week 0 (a loss to Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial) and Week 1 (a victory over Visalia-Redwood).
"They're kind of funky, a good mix of veer and option, and then the quarterback can really throw a good ball," Hammond said. "I give a lot of credit to coach Sneed, because they're really improving."
That's the story for Centennial: Improvement is apparent, but mistakes continue to mount. The Golden Hawks will take next week off before welcoming Santa Barbara to town. Southwest Yosemite League play looms in four weeks.
"We showed we can play with people," Sneed said. "I hope we can be really good. It's just a process. We need to keep doing what we're doing and try to cut back on the mistakes."