There used to be a time that Chandler High School could only dream of beating cross-town rival Chandler Hamilton.
On Friday night, the Huskies could only dream of keeping up with a dynamic Wolves outfit in the Battle of Arizona Avenue.
Chandler rolled by Hamilton 50-14 behind a big night from their running back tandem of Drake Anderson and DeCarlos Brooks, and a suffocating defensive performance. Since snapping their infamous 17-game losing streak to Hamilton in 2013, Chandler has won five of the last six in the series. This year’s 36-point win is the Wolves largest margin of victory against their down-the-street rival.
“Our defense is getting our offense the ball in short fields and it’s complimenting each other,” Chandler head coach Shaun Aguano said, the engineer of every of Chandler (8-2) triumph over Hamilton (7-3).
Though the teams were ranked No. 4 (Hamilton) and No. 5 (Chandler) in the state entering the season finale, some of the state’s top talent was showcased at Austin Field on Friday night.
Anderson and Hamilton running back Jawhar Jordan Jr. highlighted the star power. Jordan will be headed to the ACC-school Syracuse next fall while the undecided Anderson has received offers from several Group of 5 FBS schools to this point.
Anderson looked the part of a blue-chip prospect against Chandler however. He scored touchdowns on his first two touches and finished the night with 178 yards on the ground. It was another eye-catching night for the senior running back, who has put the recruiting world on notice with his play this year.
Anderson missed almost all of his sophomore and junior seasons after multiple surgeries. It put him behind the eight ball when it came to colleges’ attention. But, he continued to show off his speedy agility and open field skill on Friday. With his team up only 15-7 in the first half, Anderson burst through a hole on the first play of Chandler’s third drive, flying past all 11 Huskie defenders for a 91-yard score. It opened the floodgates for Chandler’s blowout.
“This was the first time I’ve been able to play against (Jordan Jr.) since freshman year,” Anderson said citing his injury-plagued middle two years of high school.
“I had to prove myself.”
That he did, finishing the night with 178 yards on 10 carries on Senior Night. Jordan Jr. on the other hand managed just 29 yards on 11 carries.
“I thought the running backs at IMG (Chandler’s out-of-state week one opponent) were just as good as (Jordan Jr.),” Aguano said. “I think we just were physical and I like that.”
Chandler never let the Hamilton offense get into a rhythm. Fifty-one of Hamilton’s 247 yards of offense came on their first snap. After a touchdown on that opening possession, the Huskies punted on nine of their next 10 drives, the only exception being when they ended the first half with the ball.
“We got worked up front pretty good,” Hamilton coach Dick Baniszewski said. “Their defense does a great job. We couldn’t get the passes off that allow Jawhar to get loose.”
The passing game was a definite sore spot for Hamilton. Oregon commit quarterback Tyler Shough completed only 15-of-31 passes for an underwhelming 173 yards before being pulled out of the game at the end of the third quarter. But Hamilton’s rush offense wasn’t much better. Nor was its defense, which was consistently gashed by the Chandler ground game.
Despite his big night, Anderson did not score the most touchdowns on his team. Brooks, a junior, found the end zone four times, bullying his way for scoring runs of 6, 17, 7, and again 6 yards. Anderson’s speed was the lightning; Brooks’ physicality was the thunder. Together, they shocked the Hamilton defense into submission.
Said Aguano of his dual-headed monster of a backfield: “They are a problem.”
Chandler might finish the season with two losses, but those came when injuries depleted the Wolves of some of their best players, including starting quarterback Jacob Conover and UNLV bound defensive lineman Chris Manoa. Since getting healthy, few schools in the state have been as dominant as the Wolves – since its early September loss to Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Chandler has gone a perfect 6-0, winning by an average of 23 points.
“Everybody is healthy,” Manoa said. “I love it when everybody is back and we are whole as a team. I just hope we earn the respect we deserve.”
The Wolves will now turn their attention to Saturday morning’s AIA Football Playoff Bracket show. They might not be able to overcome their early season setbacks to earn the No. 1 seed, but Chandler’s recent play has re-instilled confidence in the defending state champions.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Aguano said of the playoff seeding. “We’re going to have to play three games to get to the championship. I think right now our defense and offense are playing well. Our special teams is solid. I think we are going to be a contender.”