The undefeated Gilbert Williams Field football team could not have scripted the 2016 season any better, but the ending of their story still hung in the balance entering Saturday’s 5A state title game against two-time defending champion Peoria Centennial.
But, it turns out, the Black Hawks had their hearts set on happily ever after this year.
Behind a dominate defense which allowed just two field goals, No. 2 Williams Field (14-0) defeated No. 5 Centennial (14-2) 14-6 to capture the team’s first ever state title at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“It’s been a long road,” Williams Field coach Steve Campbell said. “A lot of kids, a lot of people put a lot hard work and time and effort into this to make it happen.”
Senior cornerback Tre’ Bugg led a defense that played lights-out all game long. Bugg had a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a key second-half interception that thwarted Centennial’s comeback attempt in the victory Saturday.
“We came into the season and basically the only two guys we had returning on offense were our starting wide receivers,” Campbell said. “So we asked the defense early in the year to really carry us and let us mature a little bit. That held true from the first game through game 14.”
Centennial struck first Saturday, getting on the board with a 28-yard field goal by Xavier Rojas in the first quarter. Williams Field took its first lead of the game early in the second quarter, scoring on a one-yard touchdown run by senior Josh Alexander.
Just before halftime, the defense got in on the scoring. Braden Valentine intercepted Centennial’s Ruben Beltran, but the ball was fumbled and scooped up by Bugg who ran 65 yards to the house to extend the Black Hawks’ lead to 14-3.
The defense remained airtight in the final two quarters, holding the Coyotes to just three points to escape with the win.
For Campbell, the magnitude of the moment had yet to sink in following Saturday’s big game. The coach built the program from the ground up, going 88-15 since the first varsity season in 2009.
Saturday marked Williams Field’s third appearance in a state title game, but its first ever championship. Even sweeter for Campbell, was who he had in attendance that day. His father and former high school football coach was on hand in Glendale to watch his son — who enjoyed tremendous success as a player — finally hoist that trophy as a head coach.
“One of my goals as a coach was to win one while he was still with us,” Campbell said. “He fell on Wednesday and punctured his lung so I was kind of wondering if he was going to make it out. It’s a special moment.”
It was family affair for the players too, all of of whom have grown close over the historic season.
“It means a lot to us, being there with our brothers. We kind of think of ourselves as one big family,” Alexander said. “This is the dream we’ve been waiting to happen and we finally made it a reality.”