The Chandler-Hamilton rivalry has seen its share of ugliness in its nearly two decades — hence the Chandler Police Department mobile command center parked outside Chandler High on Friday night. Inside the stadium, the two offenses provided the unsightliness for three-plus quarters.
But in the end — even as Hamilton once again took a knee to end the game — there was nothing more beautiful than the scoreboard: Chandler 26, Hamilton 16.
After the Wolves were held without a second-half first down until late in the fourth quarter and appeared destined for an 18th straight defeat at the Huskies' hands when a fourth-down reverse came up a yard short, Chandler scored three touchdowns in the final three minutes to beat Hamilton for the first time since the cross-town school opened in 1998.
"There are no words to express how we're feeling right now," Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said as students streamed over and through fences and onto the field as the Wolves band played the fight song.
Dionte Sykes, who hauled in the game-winning pass with 13 seconds left, did his best to explain it.
"There are people here, people on this field, who have been waiting 17 years for this," Sykes said. "To me, it was just another game. But to the school, to the community, it was big time. This is for them."
Neither offense did much of anything after the first quarter and Hamilton (4-2), holding a 9-6 lead, looked as if it was going to bounce back from last week's loss to Mountain Pointe. But the Huskies fumbled a handoff and Chandler (4-2) recovered at the Hamilton 26-yard line with 3:37 left.
Quarterback Bryce Perkins gave the Wolves their first lead 53 seconds later on a 10-yard run up the middle.
Hamilton, which had just 126 yards of offense at that point, all of a sudden looked like a team that won five of the last seven state championships. With the help of a pass interference penalty and a 37-yard pass play to Elijah Williams, the Huskies had the ball at the Chandler 19 with 1:23 left.
Two plays and eight seconds later, Sam Sasso connected again with Williams for an 18-yard touchdown that silenced the blue-clad west side of the stadium.
"I was praying at that time," Aguano said.
Hamilton's improbable answer erased Perkins' belief that his score was going to be the game-winner.
"I did think my touchdown was going to be enough," the junior said. "But since it wasn't we had to go down and punch it in again. They left us too much time on the clock. We just focused on ourselves and went down and punched it in."
Perkins led the Wolves 68 yards in 50 seconds. Chase Lucas had a 16-yard run on fourth-and-two before Perkins connected with Sykes on the 14-yard game-winner.
"Sure. Absolutely," Hamilton coach Steve Belles said when asked if he thought after Williams' touchdown that his team would prevail. "We just didn't make the plays at the end and they did. We had been making stops all night. But on fourth-and-2, we didn't make that stop; and we didn't make a couple other stops after that."
Chandler tallied more than half its offense, 158 yards, in the fourth quarter. Perkins threw for 96 of his 134 yards and Lucas rushed for 47 of his 120 yards in the period.
"Bryce was just even-keeled and we came back and answered and finished the game," Aguano said. "I just think we settled down and wore them down a little bit."
Jefferson Hunt sealed the win with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown with four seconds left.
This is the second straight season Hamilton has lost back-to-back games; the Huskies started last year 0-2 before winning 12 straight to claim the state title. Belles said his team has some adjustments to make if it is to go on a similar run this year.
"I told the team to take a look in the mirror, coach too, and ask yourself if you're doing everything you can for this team," Belles said. "I don't think we're doing the right things right now. We're not doing the things needed to be a champion."
CHANDLER 26, HAMILTON 16
Hamilton 9 0 0 7 — 16
Chandler 6 0 0 20 — 26
H — Brown 25 FG, 6:43
H — Smith 1 fumble recovery (kick blocked), 3:10
C — Lucas 44 run (kick failed), 1:48
C — Perkins 10 run (Lucero kick), 2:44
H — Williams 18 pass from Sasso (Brown kick), 1:12
C — D. Sykes 14 pass from Perkins (Lucero kick), 0:13
C — Hunt 35 INT return (kick failed), 0:04
First downs: H 9, C 15
Rushing: H 37-104, C 38-174
Passing (Comp.-Att.-Yards-TD-INT): H 6-17-80-1, C 14-24-134-0
Fumbles-Lost: H 2-1, C 2-0
Penalties-Yards: H 4-45, C 13-121
RUSHING — Hamilton: Smith 16-90, Acles 7-31, Luquette 3-7, DeSilva 1-3, Pola-Gates 1-(-13), Sasso 9-(-14); Chandler: Lucas 17-120, Perkins 17-54, Culbreath 1-2, E. Sykes 2-1, Flanigan 1-(-3).
PASSING — Hamilton: Sasso 6-17-1-80; Chandler: Perkins 14-24-0-134.
RECEIVING — Hamilton: Williams 2-55, Team 1-16, Luquette 1-7, Acles 1-3, Smith 1-(-1); Chandler: McCulley 6-72, D. Sykes 4-44, Flanigan 1-11, E. Sykes 1-6, Lucas 2-1.
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