Run-heavy Centennial off to good start

The Centennial run game is led by senior 190-pound back Maverick Harper who has 448 yards and 7 TDs through the team’s first three games.

Cougars claw their way with strong ground game

The Centennial Cougars have begun their 2023-2024 season in dominant fashion and were 2-0, beating both teams by 25 points or more before running into reigning state champion Maple Grove. The Cougars have been utilizing a smashmouth offense in which they have already put up over 975 total rushing yards.

“We are a team committed to each other, our coaching staff and our community,” said senior running back Maverick Harper. “Message has been the same all year every game. Play physical, have great character, be a committed Cougar, compete every play, and every game. Just play Centennial football.”

They hosted Coon Rapids at Centennial High School in Circle Pines and defeated the Cardinals 48-22 in their season opener.

Wasting no time, Maverick Harper capped off the Cougar’s first offensive drive, putting the Cougars up 7-0. 

But it was far from over. Coon Rapids receiver Kai-John Cummings Coleman caught a pass and broke free, scoring a 47-yard touchdown to help the Cardinals go up 8-7 in the last minute of the first quarter. 

At the top of the 2nd quarter, Harper powered his way in for another score to put the Cougars back up 14-8. After the Cougars’ defense forced a 4th and goal stop, Harper found himself in the end zone again as he went up the middle and steamrolled past blocks for his third touchdown of the night.

In the third quarter, Cummings-Coleman struck again, catching a pass and shaking off a tackle before rolling all the way for a 69-yard touchdown. However, Centennial continued to be a force on the ground, this time with Marcus Whiting finding the end zone. The Cougars were now up 34-22. Lastly, in the 4th quarter, Harper scored his fourth and final touchdown of the night in his 2023 debut, extending the Cougars lead to 19 points. Not long after, Daylen Cummings capped the game off with his second rushing touchdown of the night to seal the victory, 48-22.

Harper finished the game with 28 carries for 170 yards and four touchdowns while Daylen Cummings finished with 12 rushing attempts for 87 yards and two touchdowns.

“It just felt so good to run the ball in game one this year,” Harper said. “We are here to put in the best effort we can as a team and as individuals. Get better every day. Daylen has been great all season at QB and the O-line has been solid up front and has been creating space for the run game.”

They continued to build on this momentum by hosting Blaine in Week 2 for their cat clash rivalry game, and they didn’t disappoint at home. 

The Cougars got to work right away in the first quarter, with Cummings keeping the option and pounding his way through the goal line to give his team an early lead. A short while later, Harper took a handoff across the middle, found some space, forced a defender to miss, and then sprinted toward the end zone. Centennial was up 14-0. 

Blaine, looking to reply, called on junior quarterback Sam Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy rolled to the right, but with nobody open he took off on the ground, turning on the jets as he sprinted untouched all the way to the end zone. 

Ty Burgoon took a handoff to the left side, found a hole, and showed off his speed with nobody in his way as he scored to put them up 21-7 in the last seconds of the first quarter.

Centennial continued to have the upper hand in the 2nd quarter. For his second touchdown of the evening, Harper demonstrated brute strength by lowering his shoulder and charging in. At the break, Centennial was ahead 28-7.

Blaine, still trying to hang in there, gave the ball to Michael Douglas, who made a series of moves, shed a man off, and found the end zone. 

Still unfazed, Centennial continued to control the run game. Harper rammed his way in at the goal line to score his third and final touchdown of the game and his seventh in just two games.

“It feels good to have success,” he said. “But it takes 11 players on the field to reach the end zone. Just like it takes an entire team during the week to prepare for every game.”

Blaine, trying to get something going,  looked for Douglas once more to make it happen. Douglas took a draw play up the middle and scored after fighting for extra yardage, narrowing the lead to 18 points. 

Moving on to the fourth quarter, Cummings found a wide-open Kellen Binder downfield and floated one to him for a 27-yard touchdown putting the game away for good, 45-20.

But their success was short-lived as they had to face defending state champion Maple Grove Sept. 15.

Maple Grove showed they are still a team to be reckoned with as they scored the first three touchdowns for a 20-0 lead. However, Centennial stormed back with two touchdown runs from Cummings and another from Whiting to lead 21-20. But Maple Grove put the game away in the fourth quarter to win 48-21.

Despite the loss, the Cougars from Centennial have proven they have the roar to compete with anyone, and the bite to make a late-season push to be one of the better teams in their class.