Basha against Chandler, in an AIA Open Division state semifinal football game

Chandler junior quarterback Dylan Raiola (1) is sacked in the backfield by Basha junior defensive end Jack Bleier (33), junior defensive back Tommy Prassas (22) and senior linebacker Jackson Browning (44), in an AIA Open Division state semifinal football game, Saturday, December 3, 2022, at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Basha coach Chris McDonald didn’t want his kids to use the rain as an excuse when they took the field against Chandler in the Open Division semifinals at Dobson High School Saturday night.

They knew the elements would cause some adversity. They knew they would have to rely on the legs of junior quarterback Demond Williams and senior running back Deshaun Buchanan.

But most importantly, it would come down to defensive coordinator Zac Griffin’s ability to prepare his unit for a high-powered Chandler offense. A good week of practice turned into a shutout, as the Bears advanced to their first-ever state championship game with a 13-0 win over the Wolves.

“Coach Griffin is going to get his due,” McDonald said. “He felt pretty confident, he felt pretty good that if we shut down the run game and get to Raiola that we would have a really good shot. I was a lot more stressed out this entire week for offense.”

The rain, while McDonald wouldn’t admit to it during the game, played a role in limiting both teams offensively.

The light drizzle often turned into frequent showers, resulting in errant snaps on both sides and fumbles due to the slickness of the ball. Receivers also had trouble corralling passes from either quarterback, which proved to be the downfall for the Wolves in the second half as they watched Basha’s lead grow, albeit slowly.

Williams scored the game’s only touchdown, a 25-yard designed quarterback run that he finished off with a dive toward the pylon. He said postgame he simply took what Chandler’s defense gave him, and that he knew his legs would be key for his team’s success.

“They were giving us what we were planning for the whole week,” Williams said. “We had a good game plan and our defense played great as well as our O-line and our receivers to get open.

“It feels great. The whole point of us coming here was to change everything about it and I think we did just that … we gotta go finish.”

Basha’s one touchdown lead remained for most of the game. It wasn’t until the third quarter Timothy Tynan connected on a 47-yard field goal to give the Bears a little breathing room.

The kick came after his first two attempts were blocked by Chandler’s defense. He connected once more to essentially put the game out of reach with just over 3 minutes remaining.

Both offenses at times found momentum to get down the field. But the defenses dug in and forced the drives to come to an end. Chandler pressured Williams often and limited the ground attack from Buchanan. Basha’ meanwhile, sacked Raiola three times and hit him several more.

Raiola finished 12-of-21 for 83 yards. Chandler junior running back Ca’lil Valentine, in his first game back from injury, had 56 yards on the ground and 22 through the air. Chandler’s only interception of the game came from the arm of Blake Hefron during an attempted double pass in the fourth quarter.

Miles Lockhart was there to secure the victory for Basha.

“Just believing in each other,” Lockhart said. “It’s Basha. We knew people weren’t going to pick us because we don’t have that winning dynasty like Chandler. Everyone doubting us, it puts a fire in us. I’ve never been in this position, we’ve never been in this position. We’re all learning together.

“It’s really us against everybody.”

Williams, despite the rain, still managed to compete 15 of his 23 pass attempts for 136 yards. He also rushed for 79 yards and the only touchdown of the game.

Buchanan finished with 62 yards on 16 carries.

All year long Basha was out to prove it belonged in the conversation as one of the state’s best. The Bears went to California and beat a top team there. They took care of business against Chandler the first time and Hamilton, beating the two juggernauts in the same season for the first time ever.

Last week, they secured their first playoff victory since 2014. They practiced on Thanksgiving for the first time ever and Saturday, Dec. 10, they will play for a state championship in one of the toughest high school football postseason tournaments in the country against the defending champion, Saguaro.

“It feels great when I get to call Cody Cameron and chew him out,” McDonald said. “It feels fantastic. It feels great because these kids work so hard and they’ve had this goal since January.

“Quite frankly, anything less than playing for the gold ball I would’ve felt really guilty and felt like a failure to them. That’s what they deserve.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira

 

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