When the Open Division in high school football was started two years ago, it turned out to be the best thing for the 6A conference, which had been the top conference in the state until then.
For Chandler High School, which just won its second Open Division title, it has provided some much-needed competition for a program that had won three straight 6A championships before joining the eight-team field in the Open.
But removing Chandler from the field of schools vying for the 6A title was also a welcome move for the other 6A teams that haven’t been able to beat the Wolves for several years now. Chandler’s Open title win on Saturday, its second straight, marks 36 consecutive wins against Arizona schools.
This year, it’s Chaparral High School that benefited most from getting Chandler out of the way. The Scottsdale school beat Highland High, 24-14, for the 6A title.
Chaparral (6-2) showed it didn’t deserve the No. 7 seed it received for the playoffs as it rebounded from a three-week coronavirus-induced delay to start the season and go on to claim the title by pulling out a come-from-behind victory over No. 4 Highland.
A 7-yard touchdown run by Max Davis in the opening quarter gave the Hawks (7-4) a 7-0 lead, but Chaparral recovered quickly, tying it up with a five-yard TD run by Diego Echavarria and then went on to build a 17-7 advantage, a lead it would hold the rest of the way.
Echavarria, the back-up running back who also plays linebacker, carried much of the rushing load since starter Jared Williams was still nursing a hamstring injury from a previous game. But Williams picked up the other two scores on a three-yard run in the second quarter and another TD run from the three with 5:04 to play in the game to cap the Firebirds’ scoring.
This state title is the first since 2011 for a team that was once a dominant force in 5A before moving up to 6A a few years back. The Firebirds won three state titles from 2007-2011.
In the Open Division, Chandler had a much more difficult time trying to post a five-peat to set a new state record for consecutive football titles, the first three in 6A. After slipping past fifth-seeded Liberty High School, 35-34, in the semifinals, the Wolves had to count on a missed field goal to beat Hamilton, 23-21, for the championship.
Chandler’s win over Liberty was in its own hands since the Wolves had to prevent a 2-point attempt in overtime to hold on for the win. But Saturday’s victory was in the hands of the football gods.
A 27-yard field goal attempt with 17 seconds left to play sailed wide left of the posts and the Wolves pulled out their second victory this season over long-time rival Hamilton. Chandler (10-0) won the first meeting, during the regular season, 34-14, after holding the Huskies to just 73 yards rushing. So both of Hamilton’s losses were to Chandler.
This time, Hamilton (8-2) rallied from a 23-7 deficit early in the fourth quarter behind junior quarterback Nicco Marchiol, who missed the previous two playoff games with an injury. Marchiol threw for 160 yards and rushed for another 89 yards.
But it was a sloppy game for two teams considered the best in the state this season, particularly for Chandler, which came into the game ranked by USA Today as the No. 6 team in the nation. The Wolves were flagged for 13 penalties.
And Hamilton had its own share of mistakes, getting hit with 15 penalties, while Marchiol was picked three times by an aggressive Wolves’ defense. But also give much credit to the Hamilton defense which held the Wolves to just 128 yards rushing, a season low, and 229 total yards — well below Hamilton’s 375 yards.
Chandler QB Mikey Keene was also limited by the Hamilton secondary, which held the senior to just 101 yards passing. But he finishes out his prep career unbeaten in 23 games as a starter.