In a classic David vs Goliath battle, No. 1 ranked IMG Academy from Bradenton, FL handed Chandler High their first loss of the season Saturday night, 27-14, in an epic, hard-hitting, competition.
Although the Wolves came into the contest ranked in the top 10 of national rankings, it appeared the deck was stacked against them. They were undersized, two IMG linemen stood at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9 and weighed over 380 pounds. The 6A state champions also dug themselves into an early hole.
After quarterback Jacob Conover, who left the game after the first half with an apparent shoulder injury, scrambled for a short gain the Wolves were forced to punt on their first drive. IMG brought their size and speed to the line and delivered the first gut punch of the night, a blocked punt that they scooped and scored for a touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead.
Then on IMG’s first offensive drive junior running back Noah Cain scampered into the endzone from 25-yards out. After a missed PAT, the Ascenders were up 13-0 and the game seemed over before it even got started after another devastating blow. But then Chandler Coach Shaun Aguano saw the Wolves starting to hit back.
“I think our kids battled, that’s the thing. We’re down 13-0 and I like how they came back and battled that shows a lot of character,” Aguano said.
On their next three defensive drives, the Wolves held IMG on short-yardage 4th down situations, showing that they could battle with the size that IMG brought to Arizona. The offense took over after their third consecutive 4th down stop but after being forced into their own 4th down situation, they had a decision to make.
They lined up in punt formation, but senior Damion Maxwell ended up receiving the snap and rushing 29-yards for the 1st down. The next play, Jacob Conover found Gunner Romney across the middle of the field, for a pass and catch 29-yard touchdown that got the Wolves on the board and the crowd excited.
The second half the two teams traded punches for a good portion, both getting crucial defensive stops when needed, but it also got a little chippy. In their first offensive drive of the second half, IMG was charged with two personal foul calls, a late hit on quarterback Billy Bolger, that looked straight out of a video game, and a roughing the kicker penalty that gave the Wolves new life in IMG territory.
They marched down the field into the red zone on numerous running plays and a 7-yard pass to Gunner Romney. Then came another punishing hit from Avantae Williams that forced Decarlos Brooks to cough up the rock for a Wolves turnover.
On just three plays, IMG marched down the field and put another six points on the board. Quarterback Arthur Sitkowski found Jermaine Burton twice for gains of 20 and 37 yards then Cain punched it in for IMG from 22 yards out, that was somewhat of a final blow.
The Wolves would put seven more points on the board after Drake Anderson four-yard touchdown run. But, that came after a 90-yard touchdown run from Trey Sanders. Although, the Wolves lost Aguano took a lot away from the game against the nation’s top team.
“I thought we were pretty good in the trenches, that’s a team where we were way overmatched in the trenches so I like how our defense played,” Aguano said. “Offensively, we gotta clean it up a little bit, it’s been two games where we gotta capitalize when were in the red zone, where we should’ve scored. But I love the experience, I love the experience for our guys, but now well strap it up and get ready for Arizona football.”
It’s over 2,000 miles from IMG’s home in Bradenton, FL to Arizona and IMG head coach Kevin Wright said it would’ve been an even longer trip if they didn’t get the win. But, he also tipped his hat to coach Aguano and the Chandler Wolves.
“It’s a long way to go for us to come and not get a win,” Wright said. “But they are very well coached and a very good football team. Their quarterback gets hurt and can’t play the second half and I think we came out and played better in the second half. But, hats off to Chandler, they stopped us multiple times on 3rd and 4th downs and kept our defense on the field.”
The Wolves will have a tough next two weeks as they get set to travel to North Phoenix on Friday to take on Oklahoma commit Spencer Rattler and the Pinnacle Pioneers. Then they will host Mountain Pointe in a rematch of the 2016 6A state championship.
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