The Chandler-Hamilton game went as this rivalry tends to go for 47 1/2 minutes on Friday night.
The Wolves teased their fans by grabbing a late lead on a Bryce Perkins 10-yard scamper, then let a struggling Hamilton offense drive the length of the field for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:12 left.
Once again, Chandler was wresting defeat away from the sure hands of victory.
But then these Wolves channeled the frustration of the past 14 years to forever go down in Chandler lore. Dionte Sykes was the hero, catching a 13-yard touchdown pass from Perkins with 13 seconds remaining and J.R. Hunt punctuated the win with an interception return for a touchdown.
Finally, after 17 consecutive games of frustration, Chandler turned the tables in the 26-16 victory.
“I did think my touchdown was going to be enough,” Perkins 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.”
This wasn’t just a monkey off the backs of Chandler, but an entire jungle’s worth of animals.
Some people derisively said this wasn’t a rivalry game because the Wolves had never won it.
While the talent at the school has steadily increased to make Chandler a yearly power, Hamilton was the Goliath seemingly immune to any rocks slung its way.
But a Chandler defense which has been a weak link in the past several years stood tall, and an offense with a ton of weapons had all of them come up huge at different times.
For years, Chandler’s individual pieces have been greater than the sum of its parts. Hamilton, meanwhile, was the cohesive unit which always figured out a way to win these games.
Coming into this contest, Chandler’s two losses this year — to Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco and Mountain Pointe — had been to a pair of the best teams in the country. If the Wolves didn’t have such a precarious past in big games, they may have been the favorite to beat Hamilton, which had its notable shortcomings exposed last week against the Pride.
But with the history being what it is, Chandler had to overcome not only a very talented Huskies team but the ghosts of years past. With one minute left in the fourth quarter, this result seemed destined to end up like all the rest.
Ten minutes after that, students were streaming onto the field and tears were streaming down faces.
Chandler finally got its victory.
“There are people here, people on this field, who have been waiting (14) 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.”
Queen Creek running back Weston Barlow left in the second quarter against Saguaro with a possible concussion. He had 16 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown before being sidelined in the 35-28 loss.
Tempe quarterback Emanuel Gant had his right arm in a sling after injuring it in the fourth quarter of a 70-49 loss to Washington.
Basha running back Rajhan Meriwether (leg) returned to the lineup against Perry with 11 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown in a win over Perry.
Mountain View and Desert Mountain begin the week with a matchup on Thursday night. Both teams have standout passing games. Expect a lot of points.
Hamilton will try to rebound from two straight losses but has another tough test in Basha. The Huskies have never lost three games in a row, but the Bears would be delighted to add to Hamilton’s misery.
Williams Field will have its chance to make a statement in a showdown against Saguaro, one week after the Sabercats dispatched defending-champion Queen Creek.
Brophy-Mountain Pointe, Mesquite-Glendale Cactus and Desert Vista-Peoria Centennial are other games to watch.