It went well last year for Chaparral High School when the Scottsdale school’s football team traveled to California to play in the Under Armour Brothers In Arms Classic. The Firebirds escaped with a 23-19 victory over San Diego’s Helix High School.
This year, however, Arizona didn’t fare so well. Three teams went to represent our state, but only one came back with a win.
The annual event that honors the legacy of US Navy SEAL Brendan Looney who was killed in Afghanistan is held in three different states: California, Maryland, and Louisiana. Those three sites this year are hosting 40 high school football teams from across the country.
Arizona sent three of the top-10 teams in the 6A conference to the California site in Norco: No. 1 Chandler High, No. 2 Mountain Pointe High School, and No. 8 Desert Ridge High School. Only Mountain Pointe was able to pull out a win – but the Pride did it in convincing fashion.
Mountain Pointe set the Upland High School defense back on its heels right away, scoring 20 points in the first quarter and then rolled to a 41-22 victory. Senior quarterback Noah Grover, who saw very limited action in just three games last year, has started both of the Pride’s games so far, opening the season with a dominating 51-6 win over Sandra Day O’Connor High.
Against Upland he completed 64 percent of his pass attempts, finished the game with 276 yards, and accounted for four touchdowns. He combined with three different receivers to complete scoring drives on the first four possessions of the game to give the Pride the three-score lead that ended up being the margin of victory.
Gary Bragg opened the scoring with a 10-yard TD reception, Isaiah Pola-Mao followed with a 48-yard score, and Jaydon Brooks finished up the first-quarter scoring by taking his reception 31 yards into the end zone. Bragg went on to collect 160 yards and Pola-Moa finished the night with 215 yards that included a 77-yard touchdown in the second half.
The losers on the California road trip were Chandler High, which lost to Corona Centennial in a 56-49 shoot-out, and Desert Ridge which gave up a fourth-quarter lead to end up on the short end of a low-scoring 14-10 finish.
Chandler had to be the bigger surprise. In addition to being ranked the No. 1 team in the top division in the state, the Wolves were the 2014 state champs and lost just two games last year – one of those to Nevada’s Bishop Gorman High School, which was ranked the No. 1 team in the country at the time.
However, Centennial went 14-1 last season and played for the CIF Open Division state title. The game with Chandler was considered the marquee match-up of the Classic.
It should be pointed out that a Chandler victory was never out of reach. Centennial’s winning touchdown didn’t come until there were just 52 seconds left on the game clock after first-year starting quarterback Tanner McKee engineered a 98-yard scoring drive. Chandler’s final attempt to tie it up fell flat after four straight incompletes.
Chandler’s sophomore quarterback Jacob Conover threw for 465 yards and three touchdowns as he used his primary receivers, Gunner Romney and Johnny Johnson, to shred the Huskies’ defense. Each pulled in five passes on the night, with Romney accumulating 239 yards and two touchdowns and Johnson finishing with 169 yards and a TD.
The Wolves had similar success on the ground, with two 100-yard gainers. Ryan Johnson rushed for 136 yards and TJ Green picked up 127 yards and four TDs.
Desert Ridge, on the other hand, just looked like it had an off-night against Norco High. The defense took care of business, but the offense struggled. The Jaguars managed just 56 yards on the ground and senior quarterback C.J. Fowler was harassed all night – and sacked five times – to minimize the passing game.
It didn’t help that the Jags had some significant holes in their roster. Senior running back Courtlynd Brown went down with an injury on the first play of the game, and the other senior back, Stephan Gomez, was injured and not available for the game.
Chandler and Desert Ridge have to turn around and recover from their losses to play this Friday, the Wolves hosting Pinnacle High School and the Ridge on the road against Tucson High. But Mountain Pointe will get a week off to prepare for its meeting with Chandler.
That Sept. 8 match-up should be one of the season’s best games.