The Chandler High School football team likely will have one eye on what’s going on in the other Open Division semifinal because the No. 2-seeded Wolves desperately want another chance to take on No. 1 Hamilton High in the title game. Hamilton handed Chandler its only loss of the season in the last game on the regular-season schedule.
But the Wolves won’t get caught looking past their semifinal game with Liberty High School today at 4 p.m. at Chandler. They know the Peoria school will be ready for the game and highly motivated to win.
If Hamilton (11-0) beats Saguaro HS (10-1) in its contest following the early game and Chandler (10-1) dispatches of the Lions (9-2), it will open the way for an epic match-up of the top two teams in the state and another chapter in a cross-town rivalry that has grown to enormous proportions over the past decade.
Chandler’s only loss this season was to Hamilton, which broke the Wolves’ 45-game winning streak that began in the 2018 season.
It will also be a repeat of last year’s championship game that Chandler won to make it five straight state titles.
While both games today should be barn-burners that come down to close finishes, Liberty may be the one team with the biggest chip on its shoulder – and thus the motivation to take its game to another level for this one.
Last season, then No. 5-seeded Liberty came within a hair’s breadth of pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the season when it took Chandler into overtime in their semifinal match-up before losing 35-34 on a failed two-point conversion attempt.
Now, as luck would have it, that 2020 semifinal game is going to be re-run. And the Lions, seeded No. 6 this time, have a chance to accomplish what they narrowly failed to do last year.
The two teams have met once already this season, when Chandler pulled off a 41-21 victory. But Liberty went into halftime with a 21-21 tie and the Wolves had to go to their passing game since the Lions had managed to slow their go-to offensive weapon, the run.
Defense is the strong suit for both teams, but Liberty will be more dependent on that part of its game this afternoon. The Lions piled up nine sacks in their quarterfinal win over undefeated Basha HS and held the Bears’ high-octane offense scoreless in the second half — the only time this year that an opponent was been able to do that.
Chandler scored 48 points against Queen Creek HS in its quarterfinal game, using a 34-7 run in the second half to overwhelm the No. 7-seeded Bulldogs in a runaway 48-28 victory.
Liberty’s defense should be able to hold the Chandler offense to manageable numbers, but the Lions, who scored 38 points against Basha, are going to have to find a way to score often against an equally-talented Wolves defense.