Story by D.L White
“Offense thrills but defense wins” came into play last Saturday as upstarts Gilbert Williams Field dismantled two-time defending state champions Centennial 14-6 at Phoenix Cardinal Stadium to win the 5A state football title.
Williams Field shut down the high octane Centennial offense lead by Zidane Thomas (1888 yards rushing in 2016, 18tds), holding the Coyotes to two field goals after the westside power had erupted for 30+ points in their playoff run. Thomas had blasted through Boeing 707 size holes the week before against Vail Ceinega, rushing for a season high 336 yards and four touchdowns. That was not the case against Williams Field as Thomas was held below the century mark by a strong defensive effort lead by Zan McKinley’s 10 tackles on the night and two quarterback hurries. Braden Valentin totaled 13 tackles and an interception, Noa Pola-Gales 13 tackles, and DeAndre Ectar who chipped in eight tackles. Their efforts prevented Centennial’s Thomas from getting started and held him in check most of the night. Williams Field countered with its own effective offense by running back Josh Alexander (18 carries for 85 yards, one td) and quarterback Zake Shepard who completed 12 of 20 passes for 178 yards and proved to be an effective runner when the need arose. Shepard connected with his ace receiver Max Fine six times for 90
yards, and he also connected with Alexander on three passes for 48 yards. Justin Stokes (2 receptions 28
yards) and Justin Vaught one reception for 13 yards also made critical catches to sustain drives. Centennial entered the game having won last year’s big school title but was moved back to the 5A ranks in 2016. The Coyotes won
the 5A state title in 2014, and were looking to duplicate in 2016. Williams Field had other ideas. “Coach Taylor (Richard –Centennial) and his staff do a very good job preparing their team to play and we knew we had our work
cut out for us, but I really thought this team had a good shot,” shared Williams Field Head Coach Steve
Campbell. Williams Field ran the table in 2016, winning all its games by more than 20 points, in the state
semi-finals, they shut down a game Queen Creek 37-12. Entering the 5A title game the question was whether the Williams Field offense could hold up against the Coyote defense? The question should have been reversed as it was
the Coyotes’ offense that was overpowered throughout the night. Centennial quarterback Rueben Beltran was rushed often, but when he wasn’t sacked or hurried, the Williams Field defense picked him off twice. Tre’ Bugg and
Valentin had picks to stop drives. Centennial scored first to take a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, Williams Field came back to score 14 second quarter points as Alexander hit pay-dirt to give his team the lead at 7-3, then 14-3.
Centennial drove the length of the field to begin the second half,but had to settle for another field goal to trail 14-6, but momentum was swinging their way as the Coyote defense flexed its muscle to hold Williams Field scoreless in the third quarter. The teams battled between the 20 yard lines in the fourth quarter with each threatening “near scores” without either hitting pay-dirt and Williams Field holding on – for the title.