Centennial (5-3, 4-0 Mount Hood Conference) vs. No. 1 Central Catholic (8-0, 4-0), Hillsboro Stadium, 7 p.m.
There was an 11-game regular season losing streak that extended into the 2013 season. Last year, 0-5 in Mount Hood Conference play. This season, an 0-3 start to the season.
Meet the Centennial Eagles, a team on the doorstep of a league championship.
It’s certainly not the run-up taken by most league title contenders, but it’s the path Centennial navigated on the way to Friday’s Mount Hood conference showdown against No. 1 Central Catholic.
The Eagles lost their final eight regular season games in 2012, and started 0-3 this season. It’s now just a memory for Centennial, a team growing in confidence after running off five consecutive victories.
“It’s a vastly different feeling for us. The momentum we’ve built has fostered a feeling in practice of more enthusiasm and esprit de corps,” Centennial coach Chris Knudsen said.
Interestingly, momentum began to build the Monday after the Eagles dropped to 0-3 following a 42-6 loss to Southridge. Knudsen said injuries left the Eagles without as many as 10 starters during the first three games, but several returned to duty for that Monday practice.
“I can remember the enthusiasm and morale that week being real high, and we hadn’t won a game yet,” Knudsen said. “We win the game that week, don’t get anyone hurt, and since then, we’ve been getting better and better.”
Centennial has been lighting up of late, scoring 70 and 51 points the last two Fridays in wins over Reynolds and Lincoln. But it’s the Eagles defense that has led the way during this winning streak. Knudsen said nose guard Michael McGuire and linebackers Nick Clark and Alex Thavongsack are the physical leaders on defense. All three were missing early in the season with various injuries.
Centennial has a powerful running game. Senior A.J. Weinke has run for 810 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Last week against Lincoln, quarterback Bobby Craswell and Clark each ran for more than 100 yards.
Despite Centennial’s recent run, Central Catholic is heavily favored to win its fourth consecutive outright Mount Hood title. The Rams have won their past three MHC games by scores of 47-5, 63-7 and 69-7. Central Catholic offers a balanced offense. Quarterback Aiden Wilder has thrown for 15 touchdowns and nearly 1,200 yards this season, while running back Cameron Scarlett has 916 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Centennial shared the MHC title with Central Catholic in 2009 after the Eagles defeated the Rams 39-27. Can it happen again?
Knudsen admits the task is enormous, and says the Rams “are more talented than usual.” But the Eagles’ progress during the past month gives Knudsen hope.
“We’ve been playing a lot faster with a lot more physicality. Those things can help us a lot Friday night,” Knudsen said.