CHAMPAIGN — It sounds like the script of a new hit sports movie.
The high school football team hasn’t qualified for the playoffs during each of the last five seasons. In fact, it experienced a winless campaign just two years ago. But that all can be erased if the film’s stars manage to defeat their arch-rival in the last game of the regular season.
This is no movie, though.
It’s reality for Kyle Jackson’s Centennial Chargers.
The Chargers sit at 4-4 entering Week 9, one victory away from playoff eligibility. And Centennial face crosstown rival Champaign Central (2-6) at 7 p.m. Friday on Tommy Stewart Field with a postseason berth on the line.
“This is exactly where we wanted to be: with an opportunity to go back to the playoffs and really feel like it’s the next step in terms of turning the program around,” said Jackson, whose first season in charge at Centennial was that aforementioned 0-9 stretch of 2019.
“It’d be an awesome, amazing feeling getting back into the playoffs,” Jackson continued. “We’re going to do everything we can to achieve that goal we set.”
The Chargers were a frequent postseason contender during the 1990s and 2000s, playing beyond Week 9 on 11 occasions between 1994 and 2006. But that past success has given way to just three playoff berths in the ensuing 14 years, the most recent coming in 2015.
Centennial had an opportunity to become playoff eligible last Friday at Normal Community and trailed the Class 7A state-ranked and undefeated Ironmen just 14-13 at halftime. The Chargers couldn’t keep pace in the second half, however, and fell 35-13.
“As the old saying goes, iron sharpens iron or steel sharpens steel,” Jackson said. “Saturday morning, we had our practice, watched film and talked about what we needed to take away from the Community game. ... You live and learn, and you hope that going up against those teams helps prepare us for the playoffs.”
Centennial’s four losses have come to opponents with a cumulative 28-4 record, so the Chargers still possess plenty of confidence ahead of their latest showdown with Tim Turner’s Central squad.
The Chargers and Maroons actually competed against one another twice during the condensed 2021 spring schedule. Centennial prevailed in both games — 22-0 and 28-14.
“This is a rivalry game and all that comes with this week — all the hype, all the trash talking,” Jackson said. “(But) we said, ‘Guys, we’ve got to be above that this week. We’ve got to focus on what we have to do to be successful to keep this season going.’”
Producing consistent offense on the turf of Tommy Stewart Field is a good place for the Chargers to start in their pregame planning.
Centennial has scored 74 points in its four previous home games, with 48 of those coming in Week 7 versus Peoria Manual. Granted, Normal West (6-2) and Peoria (6-2) were two of those opponents, but the Chargers want their offense to function at peak performance efficiency this time of year.
Jackson said junior running back Brandon Harvey will need to keep producing for Centennial on Friday, adding that senior quarterback Brady Boatright’s connections with seniors Braylon Peacock, Jack Young Jr. and David Navarra also should prove critical.
“Central’s going to try to slow the game down and control the clock,” Jackson said. “We’re really trying to get it in our athletes’ hands and keep control of the ball and maintain possession so we can control the clock.”
On the defensive side, Jackson pointed to Harvey and senior Jaylen Davis at linebacker as well as Peacock and senior Carlos Mosley at safety as important presences “to combat the misdirection of (the Maroons’) wing-T and some of their run game.”
Don’t forget about special teams, either. Especially because Peacock returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week against Normal Community.
“I don’t know if we’re going to get that against Central because of their onside (kicking) approach,” Jackson said. “But maybe a punt return. We’ve been razzing our D-coordinator, like, ‘Hey, when are you going to score for us on defense?’ Maybe that comes this week.”