CORONA, CA - Southern California’s opening CIF-Southern Section Division 1 marquee playoff match-up featured Serra-Gardena traveling to face Centennial-Corona, a game that saw Centennial prevail 35-21. An inconsistent Centennial performance kept Serra in the game late, until quarterback Tanner McKee broke off for a 47-yard touchdown strut with under one minute left, sealing a victory for the Huskies.
McKee threw for 275 yards and ran for 93, while stud running back Thomas Kinslow dominated with 138 yards and two scores.
“I feel like we fought through a lot of contact offensively, and the defense put us through,” McKee said.
Sophomore wideout Gary Bryant added another touchdown for the Huskies, and caught two passes for 40 yards. Chris Venable was also a big contributor for Centennial, hauling in five passes for 101 receiving yards and one score.
Serra was led by six-foot-five junior quarterback Blake McKibbin, who supplied 284 yards through the air and three scores. Sophomore linebacker Justin Houston left everything on the field defensively, finishing with 13 total tackles, two for losses.
Senior wideout John Jackson, one of the top receivers on the West Coast, was emotional after playing his last game in high school.
“As a senior, it felt good to lay it out on the field for my brothers,” Jackson said. “It was a tough game, competing out here against a great Centennial team.”
Trailing 21-7 with just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Serra forced a Centennial fumble deep in their own territory to regain possession at the 25-yard line. McKibbin led Serra all the way to the Centennial five-yard line, but failed to convert off three straight passing plays, which brought up a crucial fourth-and-five.
Another incomplete pass was negated due to a defensive pass interference call, giving Serra another chance, this time from the half-yard line. Senior wideout Bryan Addison capitalized, scoring a touchdown to cut Serra’s deficit to 21-14.
Centennial responded with a quick three-and-out, giving Serra the ball back to start the 4th quarter. Moments later, McKibbin guided the ball inside Centennial’s 10 yard line, setting up a seven-yard Addison score to tie the game at 21, one play later.
Centennial’s offense had been completely shut down for several possessions, and needed a spark. A key drive, to steal momentum back, began off a huge kickoff return to the 49-yard line. Kinslow broke off for a huge 21-yard run, and penalties on the next play against Serra put the Huskies inside the red zone.
A McKee four-yard keeper and Kinslow run set up a crucial third-and-goal from the five, with seven minutes remaining. Kinslow dashed passed the pylon for his second score of the night, giving Centennial a 28-21 advantage.
Serra, with their season in the balance, needed a quick score. An initial three-and-out forced by the Centennial defense was cancelled out due to a defensive holding call, gifting Serra a free first down.
A second chance to move the ball down the field didn’t matter, however, as Serra fumbled their first down snap and were pushed back inside their own 25. A Drake Jackson sack on third-and-17 with just over four minutes left forced Serra to punt, setting up McKee’s game clinching drive for Centennial.
Centennial struck first, three minutes into the action, thanks to a 28-yard Gary Bryant touchdown reception. The teams traded three-and-outs for several possessions, until Serra tied the score at 7 on a 31-yard McKibbin bomb to senior six-foot-two wideout Kobe Smith.
Houston forced and recovered a Centennial fumble moments later, but Serra handed the ball right back, as Drake Jackson intercepted a tipped McKibbin pass. With solid field position, Centennial snatched an early 14-7 lead after a 22-yard Chris Venable touchdown catch.
Kinslow closed out Centennial’s first half scoring with a 69-yard explosion to the end zone, giving the Huskies a 21-7 halftime lead.
Senior Centennial linebacker Zach Otero summed up his team’s emotions immediately following the win, saying, “survive and advance, we want to make it to state!” With the victory, Corona Centennial advances to face Murrieta Valley in the Division 1 quarterfinals next week.