Chandler HS football did its job. It got to the Open Division finals.
The Wolves beat Liberty High School in one of the two Open Division semifinals to set up what was generally expected to be a meeting with Hamilton High School in Saturday’s title game.
Hamilton, however, failed to make it to the party.
Saguaro High School stunned the nationally-ranked and top-seeded Huskies, coming from behind to post a 31-24 semifinal victory that was directed by a junior quarterback making just his second start of the season.
So, the rematch of Chandler’s cross-town rivals who played for last year’s Open title isn’t going to happen.
Scottsdale Saguaro’s Devon Dampier made sure of that.
The junior transfer from Pinnacle High School had to sit out the first half of the season to satisfy AIA eligibility rules and has been sharing the quarterback duties with senior Ridge Docekal once he became eligible to get on the field. The 42-21 win against Cactus HS in the quarterfinals marked his first start as the designated QB, but beating Hamilton HS in last week’s Open Division semifinals has to be his signature win.
After throwing an interception on the Sabercats’ first offensive play, Dampier wasted no time in making amends. He scored on an 18-yard run on the Cats’ next possession and followed that up with another rushing TD, this time from the seven-yard line.
And then he opened the second half by contributing his third rushing TD just minutes into the third quarter. That broke a 21-21 tie, and Hamilton was unable to catch up before the clock ran out on the 31-24 Saguaro victory that put them in the Open finals for the second time in three years.
The first time was in 2019 when Chandler beat them to collect its second straight Open title. And last year, Saguaro was on its way to a title game quest again, but a positive COVID-19 test within the program forced the team to bow out of the 2020 tourney just before the Sabercats were scheduled to meet Salpointe Catholic in the quarterfinals.
On Saturday the No. 5 seeded Sabercats will get another shot at Chandler, again with the gold ball on the line.
Despite the fact that Chandler is ranked as the No. 11 team in the nation by MaxPreps, this will be a meeting between two pretty evenly-matched teams. Chandler has looked vulnerable this season, winning some close games and losing to Hamilton in the regular-season finale to break a 45-game win streak.
The second-seeded Wolves barely got past Liberty last week in the semis, turning the ball over six times and needing an overtime period to squeeze out a 27-21 victory and keep their title hopes alive.
Chandler has already set a new Arizona big-school record with five straight state titles, three in the 6A conference and the last two in the Open Division, which began three years ago and includes the top eight teams from across the state’s top three conferences.
But it appears the time might be right for an upset. Saguaro has the momentum from a huge win over the team favored to reach the Open Division title game since the first week of the season. And the Wolves have been reminded once again of their mortality.
Should be a great game, with a huge crowd expected at Arizona State‘s Sun Devil Stadium. If you want a good seat, get there well ahead of the 5 p.m. kickoff.