Top-ranked Chandler jumped out to an early lead against No. 8 Chaparral in the Open Division quarterfinals and never looked back, as the Wolves defeated the Firebirds 56-14.
This was the first week of Open Division games across Arizona and the number one seeded Wolves were looking to make a statement against a Chaparral team lead by senior quarterback and Ohio State commit Jack Miller.
The defensive strategy for Chandler was simple. According to Chandler head coach Rick Garretson, he just wanted to see his players make Miller make mistakes.
“Try and put pressure on them. Try and make him uncomfortable, he’s a great player that’s why he’s going to Ohio State,” Garretson said.
The Wolves were able to do exactly that as their front-seven put Miller in uncomfortable spots all night. The Wolves defense forced three turnovers from Miller, one fumble and two interceptions.
Miller finished the game completing 18-of-30 passes for 172 yards, two interceptions, one fumble and two touchdowns, one passing and one receiving.
The Chandler defense was elite all night as they scored 16 points. Jeremiah Tyler returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown, Gunner Maldonado had a pick six and Brandon Buckner blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety.
“That’s a very good football team that we made look at times average,” Garretson said. “When you have a struggle like we did on defense against Hamilton it kind of resets the buttons. They’ve had two weeks to think about that.”
Junior running back Eli Sanders was grateful that the defense had the offense’s back all night. He believes that the team plays their best when they play together.
“Our defense is amazing. They played their hearts out and we just played as a team and as a unit and when we play like that there’s no one that can stop us,” Sanders said.
On the other side of the ball the Chandler offense was unstoppable as they did not punt once the entire game. The offense was led by their running back committee consisting of Daveon Hunter, Sanders and Nicolas Nesbitt. Hunter had eight first half carries for 112 yards and a touchdown, Sanders had 12 carries for 73 yards and three touchdowns and Nesbitt had 14 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown. Hunter sat out the second half due to what appeared to be an ankle that he suffered at the very end of the first half.
Sanders credited their success on offense to the amount of hard work and effort they have put in all year.
“I mean we just work hard at our craft and everything we do, we do it at a high intensity. We practice so hard and put everything into our work and it just pays off in the long run,” Sanders said.
The Wolves will host fourth-ranked Salpointe Catholic Lancers at Hamilton High School on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. Garretson acknowledged that with Bijan Robinson, Lathan Ransom and a good offensive line, they could be tough to beat, but this is exactly what he has prepared his team for all season.
“You know they’re going to be disciplined, you know they’re going to be structured and we’re gonna have to go out and play an a plus game,” Garretson said. “I told the kids if you don’t come with you’re a plus game then you’re probably going to go home.”
Chandler: 22 14 13 7 –56
Chaparral: 7 0 0 7 –14
Chandler–Eli Sanders 1 rush (Peterman blocked kick), 9:21
Chandler–Daveon Hunter 23 rush (Peterman kick), 8:10
Chaparral: Jack Miller 15 pass Kamdan Hightower (Christakos kick), 4:12
Chandler–Quaron Adams 22 rush (Peterman kick), 4:02
Chandler–Brandon Buckner blocked punt safety (Peterman kick), 2:51
Chandler – Eli Sanders 15 rush (Peterman kick), 11:54
Chandler – Eli Sanders 1 rush (Peterman kick), 2:17
Chandler – Gunner Maldonado interception (Peterman kick), 5:23
Chandler -- Jeremiah Tyler fumble (Peterman blocked kick), 3:16
Chaparral -- Tommy Christakos 6 pass Jack miller (Christakos kick), 8:51
Chandler – Nicolas Nesbitt 9 rush (Peterman kick), 0:39