After 65-yr drought, Chandler HS will play for football title

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                </div>  There were so many great story lines that came out of last night’s high school football state semifinals in the big-school competition… In Division I, the 21-point victory by […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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There were so many great story lines that came out of last night’s high school football state semifinals in the big-school competition…

In Division I, the 21-point victory by Chandler High School over Phoenix’ Mountain Pointe High set up a championship game between Chandler and cross-town rival Hamilton High, which beat Brophy Prep to advance to play in its seventh consecutive title game.

And in Division II, Liberty High School in Peoria completely dominated Cienega High from Vail in southern Arizona for a 47-0 victory to earn its first opportunity to play for a state championship.  And that sets up another intra-city duel because Peoria’s Centennial High School defeated Chaparral High, also pitching a shutout by beating a Scottsdale team 24-0  that is a state power and perennial contender for the title.

It was the Division I game that drew the most attention – but not for all the right reasons.

On the positive side, when the Chandler Wolves play in next week’s state championship game it will be the first time they have made it that far since 1949 when the school won its only state championship.

It has taken Shaun Aguano just four years to get the program there since assuming the role of head coach.

On the downside, they did it amid a sudden whirlwind of controversy that kept one of Mountain Pointe’s primary offensive weapons on the sideline for one of the most important games of the year.  The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), the state’s governing body for high school sports, ruled that Mountain Pointe would have to forfeit its full schedule of games this season after it was determined that senior running back Tyrek Cross did not turn in a hardship form when he transferred in from Minnesota.  Head coach Norris Vaughan held Cross out from the game following the notification from the AIA shortly before last night’s game.

The youngster provides the third component to a three-headed monster in the Mountain Pointe backfield.  The others are senior running backs, Brandyn Leonard, who was leading the team with 1,407 yards and 20 touchdowns coming into the semifinal match-up, and Paul Lucas, another 1,000-yard back who averages 95 yards a game and has contributed eight touchdowns toward the team’s 10-3 final record.

Cross accounted for 16 TDs and was averaging 8.1 yards per carry.  And his loss became even more acute when Lucas left last night’s game early with a hip injury after picking up just five yards on three carries.  Add to that the knee injury that forced starting quarterback Garvin Alston to the sidelines in the third quarter.

Left to carry the load, Leonard had one of his best games of the year, piling up 213 yards on 41 carries.

But give Chandler its due.  The Wolves wasted no time taking charge, scoring on their first three possessions to take a commanding 21-0 lead that included explosive scoring as senior quarterback Bryce Perkins connected with senior wide receiver  Justin Jan for a 46-yard touchdown pass on the opening possession and then hit him again for a 56-yard score with the third possession.  In between, the ground game accounted for a score when sophomore wide receiver Kolby Taylor capped off a drive by covering the final five yards on a reverse play.

The Wolves (12-1) also had a little extra motivation since Mountain Pointe handed them their only loss of the regular season.

Mountain Pointe actually out-ran Chandler last night, rushing for 238 yards to the Wolves’ 190, and picking up six more first downs.  But the big plays put Chandler into position to win its first state title in 65 years.

However, it will have to find a way to get past the Hamilton Huskies, who will be in a familiar place since playing in the last seven title games.  Their 24-7 semifinal win over Brophy gives them a crack at adding an eighth state championship in the last 13 years.

This will be a match-up that has been anticipated for some time, with Hamilton coming into the playoffs ranked No. 2 in D-I and seeded No. 1 in the state tourney, and Chandler ranked No. 1 and seeded No. 2.  A common denominator for both teams is a win over Mountain Pointe; the Huskies beat them in Week 5 by 20 points to end the Pride’s 19-game winning streak.

Last night’s win over No. 4 seed Brophy showed some of the same dominant spirit, but not until the Huskies were able to break through a 7-7 tie at halftime.  A 19-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback James Sosinski to junior wide receiver Ian Anderson capped a 61-yard drive by the Huskies to open the second half and begin the march to victory.  Later that quarter, senior running back Ari Johnson added a 20-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach.

Sosinski finished the night 11-for-18 for 103 yards, connecting with five different receivers.  Johnson led all rushers with 95 yards.

But it was the Hamilton defense that really spelled the difference, forcing four turnovers and intercepting Brophy quarterback Cade Knox three times.  The Broncos, which had been averaging nearly 170 yards a game on the ground, managed just 34 yards against the Husky defense.

Let’s face it.  The Wolves, trying to bring home their first state title in over half a century, will have to be the sentimental favorite in next Friday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

But that sentiment will be lost on the Huskies, who will keep right on doing what they always do… playing hard for another title to add to a bulging trophy case.

And, since it’s their hated rival Chandler, they’ll likely be trying even harder.