BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTO BY DEB SCALLY
After watching opponents score at will through its first four games, the Centennial Cougars finally found balance on both sides of the football in 42-17 home win over Dickson County High School.
Senior running back Jariel Wilson rushed for three touchdowns, leading a high-powered Cougars offense that scored on six of its first seven possessions.
Having allowed 183 points heading into Friday’s affair, Centennial has been forced to rely heavily upon its offense in efforts to maintain pace on game night.
Perhaps inspired by Homecoming Night and with many graduates from the Class of 2008 in attendance, the defense provided a much-needed spark in holding the visiting Cougars to a field goal at the tail end of a 77-yard drive.
“Look, we have a very young defense, so we knew going into the season that there will learning lessons along the way,” Centennial head coach Matt Kriesky told Home Page. “Each day, it’s never about what went wrong the day or the week before, but how we can improve on it and move forward as a football team.
“With that it mind, to come out and hold Dickson to just three points after giving up that many yards, in that situation, that’s a win right there.”
Centennial made sure to make it a win on the night, adding to its 7-3 lead on the very next possession but without an overwhelming sense of urgency. Two key third-down conversions paved the way for a lengthy drive capped by Johnny Crouch’s 14-yard touchdown run on a well-crafted reverse route.
From that point, Centennial would enjoy a double digit lead for the rest of the evening.
“Tonight we came out with a spark, everyone buying into our program, and it showed with what we can do against a 3-1 team like Dickson,” noted Wilson, who continues to serve as the Cougars’ leader on and off the field. “Everyone came out motivated, and I just had to do my part whether it was scoring touchdowns, making a block or encouraging my team from the sidelines.”
Centennial scored on all four of its first-half drives, each of the final two highlighted by long plays downfield.
Facing third-and-long, senior wide receiver Joey Gustafson turned a suffocated screen pass into a 34-yard catch-and-run, putting his Cougars deep in Dickson territory. His third reception on the drive came on a 12-yard touchdown reception to give Centennial commanding 21-3 lead.
Dickson threatened on its next possession, putting together back-to-back first downs on consecutive long-yardage runs. The drive came to a screeching halt, however, when Drequan Vaughn—fighting for extra yards across midfield—was stripped by Centennial linebacker Sean Hannon.
Gustafson once again stepped up big, somehow hauling in a 31-yard pass that Cougars quarterback Grayson Marcel threw into heavy traffic, which also drew a pass interference call against a Dickson defense that was struggling for the first time this season. The play set up first and goal for Centennial, with Wilson taking it to the house on a 5-yard gain to give the hosting Cougars a 28-3 lead heading into halftime.
Wilson added to the lead on a 1-yard dash early in the 4th quarter, his third touchdown of the night which he helped set up on the strength of a 66-yard run at the end of the 3rd quarter. The touchdown was his final play of the night, along with most of the Centennial starters as they expanded the lead to 35-3.
Dickson (3-2) managed a pair of late touchdowns, with QB Gino Pontremoli finding receiver Tre’vonn Rybka on a 24-yard pass and Jonathan Killebrew for 22 yards. By then, Centennial was already in celebration mode and prepared to move onto the next one.
“We really needed a win like this tonight, the atmosphere was great with [the Class of 2008] in attendance and the student body really into the game,” said an extremely pleased Kriesky. “The games we played, we know we’re a better football team than that, and the way we came out tonight is what we are capable of against anyone we face.”
The next team Centennial meets comes with familiarity, in more ways than one. The Cougars (2-3) will travel to Murfreesboro, where they will face Riverdale High School, coached by Kriesky’s twin brother, Will.
“You know what, we just have fun with it on our level,” Kriesky said of the sibling rivalry, which was won by Riverdale in their matchup last September. “Of course, we both want to win, but I know that I have a great football team and Will knows he has a great group of players on his team as well. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day, it’s really about the young men on the field.”
The young men on the field plan to take it a bit more personal.
“We already promised ourselves after last week’s loss (57-26 to Cane Ridge on September 7) that we won’t lose another game this season,” Wilson said. “Next is early morning film review and practicing for Riverdale. We want to give Coach K a big win and reason to brag the next time they’re at the dinner table.”
Photo from Centennial’s game with Independence earlier this season.