The last meeting between Highland and Chandler resulted in one of arguably the most memorable games in the history of Arizona high school football, as it took overtime for the Wolves to separate themselves from the Hawks.
Friday night, however, wasn’t quite the same story.
Behind the arm of senior quarterback Mikey Keene and legs of senior running back Eli Sanders, Chandler managed to pull away from Highland in the second half, defeating the Hawks 42-19.
“That score was in no way indicative of how the game went,” Chandler coach Rick Garretson said, praising Highland coach Brock Farrel and his team. “That’s a good football team. That’s an Open Division football team.
“At the end of the day, our kids just know how to win. It was hard tonight and they’ve been in situations like this before.”
Garretson went to Keene early on in the game. On the Wolves’ 12-play opening drive, Keene went to the air 10 times. He methodically led the offense into Highland territory before connecting on a 37-yard pass down the middle to senior wideout Jalen Richmond. On the Wolves’ next drive, Keene again went to the air, this time for an 8-yard touchdown to senior running back Eli Sanders.
It was the second of four total touchdowns Keene threw on the night. He would later connect with junior wideout Kyion Grayes in the third quarter and Richmond once more in the fourth. The Central Florida commit completed 26-of-31 passes for 276 yards.
“I have to give it to my offensive line,” Keene said. “They protected me all night. I felt no pressure and think I got hit one time. My receivers just executed and caught the ball. Eli Sanders the running backs, they got in the mix, everyone was just catching the ball and I felt good tonight.
“Highland is a good team, an Open eight team for sure. We battled tonight and I’m proud of our guys.”
Dealing with a lingering shoulder injury, Sanders used Chandler’s unintentional bye week after Desert Vista was forced to cancel due to COVID-19 to get near 100 percent. He was spared in Chandler’s first drive of the game but quickly had his number called throughout the rest of the contest.
As he has all season, the senior delivered.
Sanders rushed for 74 yards against a tough Highland front-seven. He scored twice on the ground, once from a yard out and another from three yards. He also was on the receiving end of three passes for 29 yards, one of which the 8-yard touchdown.
“I just trusted my line and I trusted the holes would be there,” Sanders said. “We came together as a team and pushed through. We were never down but we kind of regrouped at halftime and came out and executed.”
Highland, a team many still believe should be in contention for a spot in the Open Division, didn’t make it easy for Chandler on either side of the ball. After their first two possessions stalled, the Hawks found a rhythm behind junior quarterback Gage Dayley and senior running back Max Davis.
The Hawks’ offensive line created running lanes for Davis, who never shied away from contact despite Chandler defenders barreling down on him. He capped off Highland’s first scoring drive of the game with a hard-fought 2-yard run in which he broke a tackle and dove for the goal line.
Dayley meanwhile, used the score to build momentum. He was instrumental in Highland’s long drives that kept the ball out of the hands of Keene. Short out routes and slants across the middle of the field revealed holes in Chandler’s secondary.
The junior connected with Davis on an 8-yard touchdown pass and catch to pull Highland within one touchdown of Chandler in the second quarter. Late in the third, Dayley called his own number for a one-yard plunge for a touchdown.
Dayley finished 17-of-27 for 212 yards and had 31 yards on the ground. Davis, meanwhile, rushed for 77 yards on 17 carries.
“There’s nights where the defense has our backs and tonight, we had to have the defense’s backs tonight,” Keene said. “We were just able to get the ball, execute and score touchdowns.”
Now heading into the regular-season finale, Chandler is finally able to look ahead toward its rival, Hamilton. The two top-ranked teams will be in the national spotlight with ESPN in town to broadcast the game. It’s the second time this season Hamilton, the No. 24 ranked team in the nation according to MaxPreps, will appear on national television.
And with Chandler ranked No. 4 overall in the country, it’s a matchup the entire Wolves’ roster has been looking forward to.
“It’s war,” Sanders said. “That’s it. It’s going to be a war.”