Chandler vs. Hamilton football rivalry is back — big time

Just like old times.

If you’re a high school sports fan who was living in the Chandler community in the early 2000s, you had to be aware of the football rivalry that was developing between cross-town schools, Chandler High School and Hamilton High.

For Chandler fans, it was a long, agonizing run of 15 years spent trying to notch the school’s first win over the powerhouse Huskies.  Hamilton had grown into a state and national power, often ranked among the best high school teams in the country.  The school has won seven big-school state football titles over the last 15 years.

After 17 straight losses over that period, the Wolves finally broke through with a win during the 2013 season.  That was the third season after Shaun Aguano took over the football program.

Since then, Chandler has pretty much owned the Huskies.  Chandler ran up 63 points on the Huskies in 2016, beat them by 50 points the following year, and rolled over them in a 49-7 rout in 2018.

The 2018 season was a rocky debut for the Huskies’ new head coach, Mike Zdebski, a 30-year coaching veteran from Michigan.  It was the first time the tradition-rich program suffered six losses in a single season.  They finished the season 3-7, capped off by that demoralizing season-ending loss to the Wolves.

But last season was a totally different story as Zdebski led the 2019 squad to a 9-3 record and the Huskies went into the final game of the season, against the Wolves, as the No. 2-ranked team in the 6A conference.

The No. 1 team was Chandler, which was also under the direction of a new coach after Rick Garretson was elevated from his role as long-time assistant coach when Aguano was hired by Arizona State.  All of a sudden, that old rivalry found a new spark.  And the season finale lived up to the hype.

Hamilton held a 14-point lead going into the fourth quarter, using a dominant defense to hold the high-powered Wolves’ offense to just 14 points in the first half.  But Chandler stormed back in the second half, using a 21-point surge in the final quarter to post the 42-38 victory and give the Wolves the No. 1 seed going into the Open Division playoffs.

Chandler went on to defeat Saguaro High in the Open championship to cap a 13-0 season.

Tomorrow night, history repeats itself as the two teams face off in the 2020 season finale.  This time, however, the two teams will enter the game with unbeaten records as both teams are 6-0 and sitting atop the 6A conference.

Despite that statistic, Hamilton will be entering the game as the underdog.  Chandler, which has won four 6A state titles in the last five years, is such a dominant force in the game now that it was the favored team to win it all even before the season began.  The Wolves have won 39 straight games against Arizona opponents, going back to September of 2017.

So far this season, they have outscored their opponents, 299-43, in this virus-shortened season.   The Wolves, who have a roster that includes nearly two dozen players with college scholarship offers, are averaging just a shade under 50 points a game and holding opponents to an average of seven points.

Hamilton averages 40 points a game.  But Chandler, which will have the home-field advantage tomorrow night, will test a Huskies’ defense that gives up almost three scores an outing.

The “Battle of Arizona Avenue” will be the biggest game of the season for both teams.  But it’s the fans that will be the real winners in this one.

The rivalry is back.  Big time.