By Zach Alvira, GSN Sports Editor
The trust that the Chandler High coaching staff has in its offense never was more evident than in the 6A football semifinal. Coach Shaun Aguayo went for two points in overtime and got the successful conversion that put the Wolves in the 6A state-championship game again.
Now, the Wolves must have the same belief in their defense as they prepare for a title-game rematch with high-scoring Perry. Chandler beat the Pumas for the state championship a year ago, their second straight crown. They go for the trifecta at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
While Chandler won both the 6A championship game as well as a September regular-season game with Perry, Pumas quarterback Chubba Purdy is playing much better now. In his past two games, he led sixth-seeded Perry to decisive upsets of third-seeded Desert Vista and second-seeded Pinnacle.
So after conquering No. 3 and No. 2, Perry goes for a trifecta of its own against No. 1.
To avert that, it might come down to a defensive stop by the Wolves this time.
“We are going to have to stop Chubba Purdy. He’s doing a heck of a job now,” Aguano said. “We just have to go to the drawing board, watch film and make sure we come out and play mistake-free football.”
Chandler escaped with a 36-35 overtime victory over fifth-seeded Highland in the semifinal. It took the gutsy two-point call by Aguano: Wolves senior quarterback Jacob Conover rolled right and found tight end Brayden Liebrock wide open in the end zone for the victory.
Aguano said that he was going to win or lose with the ball in the hands of Conover and Liebrock, his two senior captains. Conover got the ball away as Highland linebacker Robert Kingsford was bearing down on him.
It was a clutch throw and catch by players who are accustomed to playing with targets on their backs.
“It’s that trust we built,” Conover said. “We know that if we trust in what (Aguano) says, it will be OK. And he instills in us that if we do the right things all the time, good things are going to happen. We prepare every Thursday with what plays we will run to win the game.
“We have the mentality that we are going to win every single time. We are a tough team that can handle adversity.”
Conover and Liebrock have been a menace to opposing secondaries all season. They have connected 59 times for 680 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We just played with our hearts,” Liebrock said. “Coach Aguano is like a father figure to me. Everything he says I trust him. I just go out there and play my hardest.”
Chandler has weapons all over the field, notably running back DeCarlos Brooks.
Brooks has rushed for 1,893 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 350 yards and three more scores.
The senior back had a fumble early in the semifinal, which resulted in points for Highland. He bounced back with a staggering 214 yards and three touchdowns against the physical Hawks defense.
Brooks rushed for 246 yards when the Wolves beat the Pumas, 45-34, at Perry in Week 6 while Liebrock had 104 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Yet it might be Chandler’s defense that controls its fate, a unit anchored by linebacker Zach Bowers, who made 69 tackles.
Perry players say they’ve been waiting for another chance against Chandler. That the Wolves struggled to escape Highland lends credence to Perry’s belief that perhaps it has a chance this time.
“It’s a blessing for us to get out of that game,” Aguano said of the semifinal. “It’s hard to stay at the top.
“We’ve been working diligently the past couple of years so hopefully it will pay off again for us.”