COQUITLAM — If there was an award for Most Improved Team in B.C. high school football each season, 2021’s would belong to the Centennial Centaurs.
After all, when you’re coming out of the cancelled 2020 season following three straight 0-7 conference campaigns, advancing to the final eight with the chance to play a meaningful football game in late November is a destination many might not have had expected.
Yet come Saturday, at historic O’Hagan Field (1 p.m.) on the campus of Vancouver College, Coquitlam’s Centaurs (5-5 overall, 4-3 conference) will give the heavily-favoured hosts, the No. 1-ranked undefeated reigning provincial champion Fighting Irish (9-0, 7-0) everything they have to give in a Subway Bowl Coastal AAA quarterfinal.
“It’s awesome, this is why we play the game,” said Centennial head coach Dino Geremia. “I went to Notre Dame, and I coached there, too, and so I know VC is a tough place to play. But it’s a great atmosphere, and what an opportunity. Our challenge is to improve this week.”
It might be the simplest metric in existence, but boy, has it worked for the Centaurs, who back in mid-September came out on the short end of a 32-0 score in an exhibition game at O’Hagan.
Steady progress each and every week has seen them win four of their past five games, the highlight which may well have been a narrow, eye-opening 28-24 loss Nov. 5 against undefeated Eastern Conference regular-season champion Terry Fox.
Last week, Centennial won just its third playoff game in the last 11 seasons when it beat Belmont 39-6 behind a 228-yard, five-touchdown rushing performance from running back Ziad Sabry, the East’s 2021 Offensive MVP.
And that steady improvement has occurred not just within the team’s core of players, but as well with those for whom the level of play is a new experience.
“As coaches, seeing a level of improvement each week is something you always wish for and we’ve literally seen the light bulbs go on for so many of the them,” says Geremia. “But we’re also fortunate in that we had four or five kids join football after school had already started and they have really come around, They have given us added depth, and in some cases, are even starting.”
And of course, having a player like Sabry doesn’t hurt.
“He just took it on himself,” Geremia said of last Friday’s game in which the 6-foot, 195 pound senior did all of his damage against the Bulldogs on only 13 carries. “I said to him in warm-up ‘We need a big one,’ and he said ‘Don’t worry, coach. I got you.’ And then right from the get-go, I knew he was on. He is a tough kid to tackle. Guys get into position to tackle him but then he either runs by them or over them.
“He seems runs bigger than he is and he seems to run faster than he is.”
And that Centaurs’ offensive line has really come together.
Grade 11 twins William and Walter Zheng, at left tackle and guard respectively, and centre Enzo Rossetti, right guard Cameron Keeskotagan and right tackle Marco Oljaca, all seniors, along with versatile Grade 11 Cade Thorington have found their chemistry in front of fast-developing quarterback Malcolm Cameron.
Speed is a hallmark of the defence, where some of this season’s standout have included cornerback Tamani Duncan, end Matthew Andalis and linebackers Luciano Ruggiero and Diego Suarez.
“When we started all of this up a couple of years back, when I first got to Centennial, we had a moniker, and that was to trust in the process, “ said Geremia. “We knew that it was going to be a lot of work, and we knew that there would be lots of ups and down.
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