By SAM McGAW
The Centennial Cougars made about as improbable of a comeback any football team at any level could make.
Trailing Franklin 24-14 with just over a minute left in the game, the Cougars scored two unanswered touchdowns to defeat their cross-town rival 28-24.
“This was unreal,” Centennial first-year head coach Matt Kriesky said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of a game like this. These kids never gave up. I feel like we were down by 10 the entire game. I didn’t think we were ever going to catch up. These kids kept fighting and fighting and believing. I can’t say enough about that.”
Centennial junior quarterback Tre Stewart’s 66-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Austin Waddell cut Franklin’s lead down to 24-21 with 1:13 remaining.
The Cougars then recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Franklin 48. A few plays later, Stewart connected with Waddell over two defenders for a 43-yard touchdown with 18 seconds left.
“Tre Stewart threw absolute dimes on those deep passes,” said Waddell, who finished with six receptions for 147 yards and two touchdowns. “He has made the most improvement on the team since spring till now. His confidence has gone up incredibly. He’s starting to learn how to play like a high school quarterback. I wouldn’t trade him for anyone else in the county.”
Centennial overcame third-and-19 on the previous play with a screen pass to running back Zyon Lee.
“It just came down to me trusting in my offense, trusting my team and trusting my receivers,” Stewart said. “All I was thinking was we have to do this. We worked too hard not to win this.”
Stewart struggled prior to those final two drives. He finished with 9-of-25 passes completed for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
“I heard a stat earlier that he had gone 0-for-7 passing up until those last two drives, and then he went 6-for-6,” Kriesky said. “That says a lot about a young man, especially in his first game starting. He could’ve easily put his head down and pouted and quit, but he kept fighting and he took control of the offense and got us those last two touchdowns.”
Franklin running back Mitch Rossi gave the Rebels their 10-point advantage with a 34-yard touchdown run with 10:03 left in the contest.
Despite the Rebels having multiple possessions following the score, they couldn’t find a way to completely drain the clock.
“Bottom line is we had our opportunities to put them away and we didn’t,” Franklin head coach Donnie Webb said. “Hats off to Centennial. I’m proud of Matt [Kriesky] and his school. We had the ball with a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. We have to clean up the little things and learn to finish games.”
Big plays were the theme throughout the game, as five of the six touchdowns came from more than 34 yards out.
Franklin wide receiver Alex Gaca scored on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Wes Patterson for a 7-0 lead with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
Gaca’s counterpart at receiver, J.P. Batarseh, later took a pass from Carter Hendry 78 yards to the house for a 17-7 lead with 9:55 to go in the third quarter.
Centennial closed the gap to 17-14 five minutes later with an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown by Tavion Fleming.
“We let too many little things get away from us,” Webb said. “We let a team that’s well-coached with good athletes hang around, and that’s what happens to you.”
Running back John Carter was the first to find paydirt for Centennial, as he tied the game at seven with a 13-yard touchdown run three minutes into the second frame.
Chris Miller-Hill’s 24-yard field goal put Franklin ahead 10-7 with 2:32 left in the first half.
Rossi led Franklin on the ground with 122 rushing yards and one touchdown. He also had three receptions for 30 yards.
Gaca closed with four catches for 80 yards.