Don Ketchum
Former Staff Writer,

Big fourth-quarter interception saves Centennial

November 19, 2010 by Don Ketchum, AZPreps365

By Don Ketchum
When time is slipping away and the football game is on the line, somebody needs to step up and make a play.
“For us, a lot of the time, that guy has been Zach Hoffpauir,’’ said Peoria Centennial coach Richard Taylor.
On a Friday night when the school celebrated its 20 years of existence, Hoffpauir, a junior strong safety, came up with one of the biggest plays for the Coyotes.
As Tempe Marcos de Niza threatened to snap a 3-3 tie with about 8 ½ minutes left in the game, Hoffpauir intercepted a lob pass about three yards into the end zone and took off back down the field. By the time he was dragged down, he had reached the Marcos 32, a 71-yard return.
Six plays and two minutes later, Jebron Harrington scored on a two-yard run and Centennial held on for a 10-3 victory in a Class 5A Division II quarterfinal game.
The victory had even more meaning for Centennial, because Marcos de Niza had upset the Coyotes in the semifinals a year ago.
Class 5A Divisions I and II will take a one-week break before the Dec. 3 semifinals, meaning third-seeded Centennial (11-1) will have time to prepare for seventh-seeded Tucson Ironwood Ridge (9-3), which knocked No. 2 seed Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor from the unbeaten ranks with a 41-21 victory. The semifinals will be played at a neutral site.
“In the playoffs, sometimes you limp across the finish line,’’ Taylor said.
It was a frustrating night for Marcos de Niza, so much so that coach Roy Lopez waved reporters away afterward.
The Padres had come oh so close to making big plays, but couldn’t quite finish the job.
On Centennial’s first play from scrimmage in the game, a Marcos de Niza defender let a Centennial pass slip through his hands. Had he controlled the ball, he would have had about a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Marcos de Niza took the second-half kickoff and drove to the Centennial 1, but couldn’t go the final yard as the Coyotes’ defense stuffed Marcos quarterback Tommy Thornton just outside the goal line on a fourth-and-goal situation.
And two plays after Centennial took over, it appeared that the Padres might have a safety when it tackled Harrington, but officials ruled that Harrington barely escaped the end zone. Centennial escaped trouble on the next play when Jesse Callahan picked up a first down on a 17-yard run.
“That defensive stand (at the goal line) was huge for us,’’ Taylor said.