Centennial scored 28 points in a wild fourth quarter to defeat rival Mt. Hebron, 41-26, on Saturday.
Centennial senior wideout/corner Anthony Matthews talks Eagles football after the team's 41-26 win over Mt. Hebron — the program's first since Sept. 2, 2016.
“I think about the kids and how much work they’ve put into this and how much their hearts are into this,” said Centennial head coach Billy Martin. “Everything they’ve had to go through, from not having a team two years ago, to the season we had last year, and all the adversity in between. They’ve persevered through all of it, and still kept a positive attitude. When we think about everything we’ve been through, to beat our rival on their homecoming, it couldn’t be any more perfect.”
After the teams shook hands, the well-traveled Centennial student section rushed the field and celebrated with the team. Junior Dylan Watson, who tallied 10 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack at inside linebacker, said celebrating with the fans is something he’ll never forget.
“It gives me goosebumps,” Watson said.
FINAL: Centennial: 41 Mt. Hebron: 26@CHSEagleSports wins its first game since Sept. 2, 2016, to snap its 25-game losing skid. The win comes two years after the Eagles couldn’t field a team due to low participation (2017). The Eagles last beat Hebron on Sept. 21, 2013. pic.twitter.com/iSs9qkkFp2
In the rollercoaster fourth quarter, Centennial made several crucial, game-changing plays, including two fourth-down conversions and two 85-plus-yard interception returns for touchdowns. The last pick-six, an 87-yard return by senior Anthony Matthews as Hebron was approaching the red zone in hopes of tying or taking the lead late in the game, sealed the victory for Centennial, putting the Eagles up two touchdowns.
“After the team disbanded, everyone wanted to leave,” said Matthews, who stuck with the program all four years. “The seniors who didn’t get to play that year, they told us we have to stay and be a family. Just because they didn’t have a senior season didn’t mean we didn’t get to.”
While 41 points were scored in the fourth quarter, the start of Mt. Hebron’s homecoming game was a defensive battle. Neither team scored in the first 18 minutes, until Centennial’s Khalil Conteh ran for a 13-yard touchdown to give the Eagles their first lead since 2016. Conteh, who stepped in after Praise Bright injured his ankle, rank for 84 yards and two scores.
Centennial (1-6) was poised to enter halftime with the lead, but Mt. Hebron quarterback Finn Devine threw a deep pass to Guan Morris on third-and-17 for an 87-yard catch-and-run score with 30 seconds left in the first half. Devine ended the game with 287 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 12 of 25 passing, while Morris totaled 167 yards from scrimmage and two scores.
“I told them when we get (a win), whenever we do get one, it isn’t going to be easy,” Martin said. “We’re not going to blow anyone out. We’ll have to earn it on every play. Today, every time we scored, they’d go down and score, too. The kids went out there and earned it and got the job done.”
The Eagles scored to begin the second half and take a 13-7 lead. Senior quarterback Malik Chester scrambled for an 11-yard score to cap the 10-play drive. Chester, the Eagles’ starting quarterback for most of the season, didn’t start the game under center but took over as the full-time signal caller midway through the second quarter. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 179 yards passing and added 41 yards on 14 carries.
“It feels amazing beating this school, our rival, at their field on their homecoming,” Chester said.
Centennial then gifted Mt. Hebron a short field after the Vikings recovered a muffed punt. Hebron running back Giuliano Fiorilo plunged for a 1-yard score to tie the game at 13 late in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hebron (0-7) was nearing the Eagles’ red zone when Devine’s pass went through his receiver’s hands and was intercepted by Muchiri Mbugua, who returned the pick 88 yards to put the Eagles up 19-13.
“He’s got a nose for the ball, and he sees things well back there,” Martin said. “He was upset about that play to end the first half, and he more than made up for it.”
Mt. Hebron tied the game on its next possession. Divine found Morris wide open for a 46-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a one-point lead. AJ Awosika then put Centennial up 25-20 with a 6-yard touchdown run midway through the final period. Devine retook the lead for Hebron two minutes later with a 2-yard QB sneak.
Down one point with four minutes remaining, the Eagles drove 76 yards in 10 plays. Conteh’s 23-yard run capped off the game-winning scoring drive, though the biggest play of the drive was a 20-yard completion on third-and-27 from Chester to tight end Brendan Hilbok, who caught seven passes for 83 yards. Chester then drew the Vikings offside to shorten the fourth down to two yards and gained exactly that amount with his legs on the next play.
The Vikings had about 90 seconds to tie or win the game, but Matthews’ interception return for a touchdown sealed the triumph for the Eagles.
“I was so nervous,” Martin said. “It was surreal to have that play as confirmation that we won.”
“I knew they were going to try us deep, because they were beating us with the passing game,” Matthews said. “When I caught the ball, I kept telling myself that I had to score there to get the win for the school. Running down the sidelines, I knew it would be over. It felt great.”
The Eagles’ last victory was a 31-20 triumph over Hammond in Week One of the 2016 season. The win on Saturday is Centennial’s second since Nov. 8, 2013, when the Eagles beat Hammond 53-19. The team went 0-10 in 2014 and 2015, 1-9 in 2016 and 0-10 without a single point scored last season, a year after the school couldn’t field a team. The triumph over Mt. Hebron is the team’s first over the Vikings since its 28-21 win on Sept. 21, 2013.
“When last season ended, we had our banquet, and talking to the kids then, regardless of how the season went last year, I told them they’d learn more about life and how to handle challenges with their decision to stick it through,” said Martin, a Mt. Hebron graduate. “That carried into this season, which hasn’t always been smooth, but they’ve stuck it through. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”