SPENCER — As Centennial junior Luis Perez crossed the goal line with just more than two minutes remaining, the magnitude of what was happening began to hit the Bison.
Perez's 55-yard interception return for a touchdown capped Centennial's 21-2 playoff-clinching victory against rival John Marshall on Thursday at Star Spencer's Twidwell Stadium, causing a celebration just behind the end zone that did not stop until well after the game with the Britton Bowl trophy in hand.
Centennial is going to the playoffs for the first time in school history, finishing the regular season with a 6-4 record and 3-3 record in District 3A-3 to claim the final playoff spot.
“This is the biggest feeling in my life,” Perez said. “I will never forget this day. Knowing that we've always been the underdog, just to come out and get our first playoff spot is going to make us more hungry. I feel like this is going to build a foundation at Centennial.”
For the Bison, the win wasn't exactly pretty.
They opened the game strong with senior quarterback Malcolm Mitchell Jr. rushing for a 1-yard touchdown on the opening drive. Mitchell rushed four times for 70 yards on the drive in a display of what the Bison intended to do on offense.
The plan just never really worked the rest of the way as Centennial fumbled the ball nine times — losing three — and racked up 12 penalties for more than 100 total yards.
Centennial even allowed the game to get interesting when John Marshall's Sammie Kesse blocked a punt out of the end zone for safety in the third quarter, bringing the game within five at 7-2.
But then Centennial rattled off two touchdowns in the fourth on a 12-yard run by Steven Perry and Perez's interception return to overcome the sloppiness.
“We put a model together about three weeks ago and said whatever it takes, scratch and claw but we've got to get in,” Centennial coach Don Willis said. “We wanted it so much for the kids. That's what we talked about all year, ‘Let's do something that's never been done.'”
Mitchell finished with 95 yards on 15 carries and completed 13 of 23 passes for 105 yards. The Bison had just 183 total yards of offense, though, leaving the defense to lead the way.
John Marshall was held to just 149 yards of offense and Centennial came away with four turnovers. John Marshall star receiver Devion Smith never really got going, either, being limited to two fourth-quarter catches for 38 yards.
“All I told them was we got to stay hyped every play,” Mitchell said. “Be aggressive with them. We've got to be headhunters on defense.”
John Marshall finishes the season 4-6 and one win shy of the playoffs just one season after finishing 0-10.
“We prepared hard all year and the guys are just now understanding commitment,” first-year John Marshall coach Rashuan Woods said. “I feel like this is a positive season even though we didn't get to the playoffs. From where we've come from, we've come a long way and I'm proud of the guys.”