Football opener vs. Pinnacle HS is must-win for Chandler

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                </div>  With the Arizona high school football season starting early for some teams this year, the first official practice for those schools was moved up a week to July 27 to […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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With the Arizona high school football season starting early for some teams this year, the first official practice for those schools was moved up a week to July 27 to give them enough preparation time for the early openers.

None were too happy about having to add a week in the hottest part of the summer.  But the early start may turn out to be a godsend for Chandler High School.

The Wolves will meet the No. 4-ranked team in the nation on Aug. 29, which is the second game on their schedule. That means they will have a chance to shake out the first-game jitters and smoothe out any wrinkles in their offense and defense before taking on Bishop Gorman High School, the Nevada powerhouse that finished last season ranked No. 1 in the nation and comes into 2015 not far off that mark.

Actually the Aug. 29 game will be a contest between two nationally-ranked teams.  Chandler will begin the season at No. 20 on the USA Today Super 25 pre-season rankings.

For Gorman, it will be the first game on their schedule.  But Chandler will get to ‘tune up’ with Pinnacle High, a Phoenix team coming off a 10-2 season – but with a new quarterback after the graduation of Brian Lewerke.  Lewerke directed a balanced attack, as the Pioneers piled up 446 yards a game, 220 on the ground and 226 through the air.

The biggest challenge for Chandler will be to avoid looking past Pinnacle to the Gorman game, which will be nationally-televised.  Even with a new QB, the Pioneers aren’t the kind of team to take lightly.

And the Wolves need a challenge to prepare for Gorman, which is going for its seventh straight Nevada big-school state championship this season.

The Gaels lost their top running back, Russell Booze, to graduation, but will return their starting quarterback and his favorite receiver to fuel the offense.  Dual-threat quarterback Tate Martell is a junior this year, coming off a sensational sophomore season in which he threw for 2,537 yards and ran for another 433 to put 48 touchdowns on the board and lead the Gaels to an undefeated 2014 campaign and the top ranking in the country.

Booze and his 1,791 rushing yards are gone, but the Gaels won’t lose that much with Jonathan Shumaker and Biaggio Ali Walsh filling the void in the backfield.  Together, the two backs ran for more than 1,200 combined yards last season.

And the team’s top receiver from last year will be back for his junior year.  Tyjon Lindsey hauled in 34 passes for 1,313 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Gorman will have a new head coach on the sidelines, but that will likely be a non-factor this season.  Kenny Sanchez will be wearing the headphones this year, taking over for his brother, Tony, who was hired after last season to direct the UNLV program.  Kenny has been serving as his brother’s assistant for many years and will simply continue in a different capacity.

The Gaels have all the key elements for another successful season.  They return a solid core of seniors to provide the leadership, have seven returning starters on offense, and will make life difficult for opponents’ offenses with a solid defensive line and linebackers.

Chandler, meanwhile, will have just one game to break in a new starting quarterback as Mason Moran prepares to replace graduated Bryce Perkins, one of the top signal callers in the state last year who led the Wolves to a 13-1 record and the school’s first state football title in 65 years.  He will be playing for Arizona State this season after setting school and state records as a senior and earning a No. 14 rating by ESPN among dual-threat quarterbacks.

Moran saw lots of playing time last season, but only limited snaps under center.  The senior played safety on defense, but was used as a back-up to Perkins, throwing just 15 times all season, picking up 217 yards, and running for another 150 yards.

But he’ll have plenty of help.  The Wolves also return senior wide receiver N’Keal Harry, ranked by at least one recruiting site as the No. 1 player in the state, and senior running back Chase Lucas, the workhorse last season who piled up 1,126 yards rushing and was also one of the team’s top three receivers.

The Gaels have the momentum of coming off an undefeated 2014 season, capping it off by scoring 70 points in a championship-game rout to win their sixth straight state title.  On top of that, this will be a home game for Gorman.

Sounds like a big mountain to climb for Chandler.  A stumble against Pinnacle would be devastating.

That means the Wolves will be opening the season with a must-win game.  Hey, no pressure here.