Looks like the Chandler High School football players won’t have a lot of time for Christmas shopping again this year.
Chandler’s second straight 6A state championship means another trip to the Geico State Champions Bowl Series, so football practice will continue in preparation for the Dec. 23 game. The event will feature a doubleheader that includes state champions from Arizona, Florida, Maryland, and Utah.
The Wolves will play Florida’s Miami Northwestern High School in the 7:30 p.m. nightcap. No. 8 Bingham (Utah) will take on No. 11 St. Frances Academy (Maryland) in the 4 o’clock game.
It will be Chandler’s second appearance in the bowl series, which began in 2014 and will be televised by ESPNU. Last year, the Wolves beat Valdosta High School from Georgia, 44-24.
(*Update: Chandler made it two in a row by beating Miami Northwestern, 55-20. Jacob Conover threw for 341 yards and five touchdowns, and DeCarlos Brooks rushed for 188 yards and a TD.)
It has been a real roller-coaster ride through the 2017 season for the Wolves, but this selection is the final reward for weathering the storm. They opened the season sporting a No. 7 national ranking and beat their first opponent on the schedule, Red Mountain High School, by almost 30 points.
But then they stepped out of their comfort zone to find out whether they could play with the rest of the big boys on the national landscape. Probably not a good idea since a 27-14 loss to IMG Academy in the second game on the schedule broke the momentum they were building for the season, and may have also put a dent in their confidence.
It also cost the Wolves the services of their starting quarterback, Jacob Conover, who was injured just before halftime and would be sidelined for the next five games.
The Florida school, which is a prep ‘football factory’ in Bradenton with players on its roster from all over the country, was the No. 2 team in the USA Today rankings when it traveled to Chandler for the game. IMG stepped out to an early 13-7 lead in the nationally-televised game and never relinquished the lead.
Without Conover in the line-up, the Wolves struggled against Pinnacle High School in its next game, but prevailed in overtime for a 35-28 win. It looked like they might be getting their mojo back.
However, life without Conover caught up to them in the next game when Mountain Pointe High School, the No. 4 team in 6A, knocked off the top-ranked Wolves to leave Chandler with an unexpected disappointing 2-2 start to the season.
They had hit the bottom of the roller-coaster ride.
But the climb back to the top started with the next game. The Wolves rebounded with a 51-21 win over Sandra Day O’Connor High School to begin a run of 10 straight victories that would enable them to close out the season 12-2 and bring home another gold ball to put in the trophy case.
Perhaps the peak of that rise to the top came in the final game of the regular season when the Wolves posted a 50-14 rout of long-time rival, Hamilton High. Chandler had lost 17 straight games to their cross-town nemesis over a period of 15 years before finally escaping from Hamilton’s shadow four years ago. Since then, the Wolves have owned the rivalry — and won three state titles in the process.
Now Chandler, ranked No. 23 by USA Today, is ready to take on another out-of-state power in Miami Northwestern. The Saturday contest, which will be played in the new 6,000-seat soccer stadium at Grand Canyon University in west Phoenix, will be the first Geico Bowl appearance for the South Florida school, which won that state’s 6A title this season but is not ranked nationally. It will be the first time the soccer venue, opened just last year, will be used for football.
It was Miami Northwestern’s first state title in a decade, and they did it with one of the better defenses in the country. But Chandler hasn’t had much trouble dealing with good defenses this season. The Wolves are averaging more than 500 yards of offense a game, 270 passing and 272 rushing, and have piled up 85 touchdowns on the year.
Over the 10 consecutive wins to close out the season, Chandler averaged 55 points a game.
This should be another bowl win for the Wolves.