The last time No. 5 Gilbert Perry faced a highly ranked team in the state, the Pumas fell behind early to Chandler and never recovered en route to their first loss of the season.
Facing a similar early deficit against an equally talented No. 1 Chandler Hamilton team on Friday night, Perry flipped the script, overcoming a two touchdown hole to outlast the Huskies, 65-63.
“We said this was going to be a battle,” Perry coach Preston Jones said. “It’s going come down to mental toughness. We sold that to [our team] all week and we felt like in the second half our boys really stepped up.
After Hamilton (7-2) scored touchdowns on its first seven drives of the game, the Perry (8-1) defense began to get pressure on Huskies senior quarterback Tyler Shough, a four-star recruit and Oregon commit, and disrupt an explosive Hamilton ground game led by Syracuse commit running back Jawhar Jordan.
The Pumas gave up 49 points in the first quarter and a half, but just 14 the rest of the way.
“We had a couple stops right before half (time),” Jones said. “We said don’t stop, we are fixing it here. We had some stops, got back out there playing with confidence.”
As the Pumas piled up stops, their senior quarterback Brock Purdy began piling up scores. Purdy finished the night with 7 total touchdowns, and over 350 yards through the air to lead Perry back into the game.
After Hamilton’s first punt of the night midway through the second quarter, Purdy scrambled out of the pocket and through the Huskies defense for a 58-yard touchdown run. The comeback was on.
“We did last year in this same exact place against Hamilton,” Purdy said, referencing Perry’s 63-60 overtime victory over the Huskies in the quarterfinals of the 6A state playoffs. “We knew if they were going to score, we were going to have to comeback.”
Perry traded scores with Hamilton and kept the deficit to within six points late into the third quarter. With the ball on their own 36-yard-line, the Pumas finally found their go ahead score. Purdy hit junior receiver D’Shayne James on a short slant route, but James burst past his defender and the rest of the Huskies’ defense, sprinting all the way on a 64-yard catch and run score.
“I was thinking, “Go, go, go, don’t get caught,’” James said. “My speed is increasing, my agility is increasing and I am getting to know the offense in and out.”
Perry converted a two-point try to take a 58-56. The Pumas wouldn’t trail again.
Hamilton had chances to save a victory in the fourth quarter. Down by nine points with seven minutes left in the game, the Huskies went for a fourth-and-one on the Perry 15-yard-line instead of kicking a field goal. Their offensive leader Jordan had over 280 rushing yards in the game, but couldn’t pick up the one yard he needed most, getting stood up at the line and tackled short of the sticks to turn the ball over on downs.
The Huskies had another chance on their final possession of the game. Down by two points, Hamilton had 42 seconds to drive from their own 35-yard-line to field goal range. Shough tried to get it all on the first play, unleashing a deep ball down the middle of the field. He overthrew his receiver though and sent the pass right into the hands of Perry safety Travis Calloway to seal the result.
“He was staring the receiver down the whole time and just had to break on the ball and make a play” Calloway said. “We faced a talented offense…they were a tough team, we just had to dig deep and come together.”
The Pumas were able to overcome turnovers of their own, including two critical giveaways in the third quarter. Running back Kenny Fultz fumbled the ball on the goal line to negate a terrific scoring chance before return man Colby Dickie muffed a punt minutes later to set Hamilton up with great field position.
But the Huskies couldn’t punch it in and missed a 20-yard field goal. Making that kick would have reestablished their two-score lead. Instead, James’ broke free for his go-ahead touchdown two plays later.
“What I’m proud of is that we were behind the majority of the game and we told our kids all week the mentally tough team was going to win,” Jones said. “We knew we were going to have a hard time stopping them, that they were going to score their points.”
Most of Hamilton’s scores came on big plays. Jordan had touchdown runs of 41 and 91 yards. Shough hit receiver Tim Lockhart for a 68-yard score.
But those weren’t the plays that mattered in the end.
“Adversity; when you are down a couple of touchdowns it doesn’t matter, you can always come back,” Purdy said. “Just stick to the plan and things will work out.”