Bright lights, big stage never faze Huskies - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Bright lights, big stage never faze Huskies

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Posted: Friday, October 1, 2010 11:36 pm | Updated: 3:48 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Christian Westerman Jr. chuckled while taking off the armor beneath his Hamilton uniform. The heat, humidity and scope of a nationally televised high school football game weren’t lost on the part of the Huskies’ pancake-dominating senior offensive tackle.

For most of the last quarter of Hamilton’s 38-20 runaway victory against Chandler, everyone knew what was coming. That included Westerman, Chandler’s defense, the 9,000 in attendance who were in their seats at 5 p.m., and everyone watching at home.

Hamilton had the lead and was going to run the clock out, the Wolves knew it, and there was nothing they could do about it as Hamilton put together a nine-minute touchdown drive.

“That was crazy,” Westerman said with a big ol’ O-lineman-type grin.

Hamilton’s built-in advantages when it comes to athletics and available resources have been well-chronicled and discussed. It lights up message boards and internet fodder almost as much as the decision to split up divisions.

Here’s the part that gets glossed over, yet has been more evident this year and on Friday’s national stage than at any point during this 32-game winning streak:

The Huskies are very good and, thanks to a terrific defensive performance and its offensive line, are officially everyone’s 5A Division I state championship favorite going into the second half of the season. More impressive, however, is that for the past 32 games, they’ve been everyone’s state championship game, every week, and haven’t flinched once.

“We like it,” said Huskies linebacker Tyler Rutt, one of the team’s defensive stars who shut down Chandler’s high-powered offense. “We like the pressure of every team running after us.”

Coming in, this game meant everything to Chandler. It was the Wolves’ best (or, at least, second-best) chance to beat Hamilton in the 14 years of these teams’ history. Coach Jim Ewan is leaving Chandler after the season. And they were going up against former teammate Malcolm Holland, who went from Hamilton to Chandler last year, then back to Hamilton this season.

The Wolves were healthy and ready. The Huskies seemed to show some vulnerability in recent weeks, especially on defense. Holland wasn’t healthy (and re-injured his ankle during the game).

Guess what? It didn’t matter. Again. The Huskies got off the bus at 5 p.m. and 8,000 fans were already at their seats. They saw the extra stands, TV equipment and fans’ signs covering every square inch of Austin Field.

“We roll up in the busses and the bleachers are full, it was like the game had already started,” Rutt said. “Nerves were definitely there.”

Yet 75 teenagers in white and black didn’t flinch. They didn’t sweat when boos and jeers cascaded down upon them during warm-ups from the home side. They didn’t pause when Chandler took an early lead.

It’s a mental and psychological makeup that Huskies coach Steve Belles credits to his Notre Dame coach, Lou Holtz, with whom he learned honesty is the best policy among players. Good or bad is irrelevant.

For the Huskies, this wasn’t a nationally-televised, wet-your-pants, season-ending game.

It was Week 6 of the season.

“That’s how we’re coached,” Westerman said. “All week it’s the same drills, same lessons, teaching the same things. By the time we get to the game, it’s easy.”

It didn’t matter that Chandler prepared for the type of trick play Hamilton threw at the Wolves in the fourth quarter, or that the Wolves “literally discussed it right before the game and again before the play,” according to Wolves coach Jim Ewan.

Westerman (Texas) and fellow offensive lineman Tyler Johnstone (Oregon) showed why they’re Division I-bound.

But that’s it. The Huskies have several kids who can play lower Division I-A, but there are no stars at the skill positions on either side of the ball. Yet Kyren Poe outplayed Brett Hundley; Tanner Clay nearly matched his 2009 receiving totals in this game; and Jai Johnson, who played sparingly last year, had a good game as well.

The Hamilton defense that shut down Hundley both passing, and especially running, was the same scheme used in last year’s state semifinals blowout.

“They just pounded us in every aspect with the game on the line,” Ewan said. “Their will was stronger than ours.”

That was evident and impressive on a physical level. But psychologically, it’s been that way for 32 consecutive weeks, and no amount of resources can explain that in this world of 15-, 16- and 17-year-old teenagers.

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]