The Highland football program, coming off its first-ever state title win, has been selected to compete in the annual Geico State Champions Bowl Series this upcoming weekend in Las Vegas.
The Hawks will face Florida’s Chaminade-Madonna High School, which is coming off a 21-0 win over Berkeley Prep in the state’s 3A championship. The game is scheduled to take place on Friday, Dec. 17 at 8:30 p.m. on the campus of Bishop Gorman High School.
“From a community standpoint, we are super excited,” Highland Athletic Director Brandon Larson said. “I’ve never been able to experience anything like this and I know coach (Brock) Farrel hasn’t either. We are super stoked for the opportunity to play on the national stage.”
Highland becomes the latest Arizona high school football program to take part in the Geico game.
Chandler was the first team from Arizona to play in the series in 2016. The Wolves, fresh off a state title win over rival Hamilton, traveled to Texas and beat Georgia champion Valdosta 44-24 at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Wolves participated again the next season in 2017, this time held on the campus of Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. Chandler beat Miami Northwestern (Fla.) 55-20 in that game. In 2018 Centennial from Peoria had its opportunity to represent the state against Eastside Catholic from Washington. The Coyotes, one of the most dominant programs in the state, fell 17-0.
Last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school teams rarely traveled outside state lines for games. So, Geico and ESPN cameras descended upon Chandler and made the annual rivalry between the Wolves and Hamilton that year’s game. Chandler won 34-14.
Now, Highland has the opportunity to build upon its state championship win over Chaparral on the national stage.
“They contacted me last week and said they wanted to take the winner of the 6A, Open or both,” Larson said. “It all depended on matchups and who could commit. We’re all in on that because we have nothing to lose.
“They texted me around 6:30 last night and said we were in.”
Highland will enter the national contest with an 11-3 overall record and riding a five-game win streak that extends to the final game of the regular season when it beat Casteel. The Hawks’ only three losses of the year came to the top three ranked teams in this year’s Open Division – Hamilton, Chandler and Basha.
The Hawks are led by its stifling defense and high-powered offense led by quarterback Gage Dayley, who holds multiple passing records for the team over the course of his three years as the starter. Dayley’s talent was on full display against Chaparral last Saturday as he completed 13 of his 14 pass attempts for 234 yards and four touchdowns.
It was as close to a complete performance as it gets for the Hawks against Chaparral, with both the offense and defense having played at a high level. They’ll need a similar performance to beat Chaminade.
The Lions are led by sophomore quarterback Cedrick Bailey, who threw for 1,729 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Fellow sophomore Davion Gause has gouged opposing defenses on the ground this season, rushing for 1,454 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Chaminade’s defense has been equally impressive, allowing just over eight points a game in 12 outings. Their lone loss came in a two-point defeat to American Heritage, one of the top programs in Florida.
Winning on a national stage won’t be easy. But Highland is up for the challenge.
“We felt like we were an Open team this year and we felt like we played some good football,” Larson said. “We just lost to three really good teams. This is our chance to see how we match up on the national stage and have some fun with it while we’re at it.”