December 18, 2008

It was a little more than a decade ago when Matt Logan was named coach at Corona (Calif.) Centennial High.

Around that time, De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) was running its famed winning streak into the mid-60s. The streak ended in 2004 at 151 games. By that time, Logan was well into his reign at Centennial, and the Huskies haven't lost more than three games in a season since.

Friday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the longtime powerhouse will meet the relative new kid on the block in the California Interscholastic Federation Division I state championship game.

"There's a certain level of excitement that comes in getting the opportunity to play a program like De La Salle," said Logan, whose Huskies are ranked No. 6 in the RivalsHigh 100. "It shows where we're at as a program. It's an indication of how much work we've done."

The Huskies were in the state title game in 2007, but they came out flat and never completely regained their footing. They fell behind 31-7, rallied to tie the score but eventually lost 37-31.

Who handed Centennial that bitter defeat? Who else? The De La Salle Spartans. So this year's game isn't just a showdown between two of the nation's best teams, it's a chance at revenge for the Huskies.

There are 22 Centennial players who saw action in last year's game and 48 who dressed. They all remember losing. They all took it with them through the summer and into the 2008 regular season.

Logan hesitated to call this week's game a "revenge game," but he did say the Huskies used last year's disappointing bowl performance as motivation during the offseason.

It was the same thing every day, every practice, every snap. Who beat us last year in front of a statewide audience? Who embarrassed us, then let us back in the game, then slammed the door in our faces?

"It was definitely a theme, I'll say that," Logan said. "We wanted to go back to a state game, not so much to play De La Salle again, but to get back and come out better than before."

If Centennial can avoid a repeat showing, it'll do so by holding onto the football. Last year's performance was marred by four Huskies turnovers, which enabled De La Salle to build a big lead.

The Huskies are averaging about one turnover per game this year a statistic Logan knows like it was his telephone number. If the Huskies don't double or triple that against De La Salle, they'll have a decent shot at victory.

Most publications are calling the undefeated Huskies a slim favorite over the Spartans, who are ranked No. 37 in the RivalsHigh 100 and whose only loss came in late September against No. 17 Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep.

The offenses are a study in opposites. De La Salle's run-dominated playbook is drastically different than Centennial's spread offense. The Spartans pound the ball, with Arizona-bound running back Kylan Butler leading the way and three other backs tallying at least 450 yards.

The Huskies have talented tailback Arthur Burns (1,803 yards, 27 touchdowns), but their passing duo is their key. Nebraska commitment Taylor Martinez has connected with UCLA-bound receiver Ricky Marvray 61 times for 1,091 yards and 12 touchdowns.

There will be no trickery, Logan said. Both teams will do what they do best, and that's usually good enough to go home victorious.

"We play very different games, but we share philosophies," Logan said. "We each do a few things well. We don't try to spread ourselves too thin."

Whatever they do, it works. In 27 combined games this season, they've outscored opponents by 684 points. They've demolished all in-state competition and now find themselves in the biggest game of the year. There's another bowl game - the Open Division game between Grant (Sacramento, Calif.) and Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) that's supposed to be the more prestigious platform, but there's a near consensus among fans as to which matchup is more anticipated.

"It's a great situation, and if you look at the personnel, you know it makes for an exciting game," Logan said. "I know there's the four teams left in these big games, and, to me, it's like we're all competing for the state championship."

Game of the Week California Division I Finals: De La Salle versus Centennial
KEY TO THE GAME: Centennial Huskies
Huskies Eliminate mistakes: When asked what kind of game the Huskies need to play to win, coach Matt Logan said "no turnovers." In the De La Salle-Centennial game last year, the Huskies had four turnovers that doomed them to an early deficit and an eventual defeat. Centennial plays a fast-paced game, which is how it puts up points at such a prolific rate. But against a disciplined Spartans squad, the Huskies need to be on special alert to not get too speedy and risk making mistakes.
KEY TO THE GAME: De La Salle Spartans
Spartans Keep the clock moving: While the Spartans' rush-oriented offense is effective, it can't score in bunches like the Huskies. That's why De La Salle needs to win the time-of-possession battle. If the Spartans score on their first couple of possessions and get a stop or two, they'll be fine. Spot De La Salle a 10-point lead and give its running backs a chance to chew the clock, and Centennial will be in for a long night.
Note: Motivation is easy
For the Spartans, anything less than a state championship is a disappointment. De La Salle is so steeped in history that the season will be deemed a loss if the Spartans don't rebound from their late September defeat with a big-time postseason victory. The Huskies are looking for a chance to avenge last year's playoff loss. Centennial has been impressive all season, but it would be tough for the Huskies' seniors to finish their high school careers with consecutive postseason losses to the same team.

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