By JOEL VISS, GSN Contributing Writer
It started with a quarterback battle in the scorching heat of July and quickly took an unexpected turn when an injury put one of its most explosive playmakers, D’Shayne James, on the sideline for the season.
Yet there was Perry High at Sun Devil Stadium, back in the 6A state-championship football game, after the sixth-seeded Pumas matured and grew during the season. It knocked off No. 3 Desert Vista and No. 2 Pinnacle in the playoffs to earn a return match for the crown against its nemesis, cross-town rival Chandler.
Perry overcame a lot of adversity during the season, but on Dec. 1 it once again could not overcome Chandler, which smothered the Pumas, 65-28.
“It’s a team effort,” said senior wide receiver Colby Dickie. “One player goes down, it’s not the end of the world. We’re going to be there with him, we’re going to help him recover, but we still have football to play.
“We came together as a team, even after losing a couple of players, and we just worked our butts off all season long to get back to where we needed to be and that was here.”
After losing to Chandler (13-1) in last season’s title game, 49-42, the Pumas (11-3) were an unlikely candidate to make it back. It lost Arizona’s 2017 high school football player of the year, Brock Purdy, who’s now building new fans as quarterback at Iowa State.
It helps when his replacement is of the same blood.
Purdy’s young brother, Chubba Purdy, a junior, emerged as the quarterback. Chubba passed for 3,425 yards and 36 touchdowns and added another 1,152 rushing yards in his first year as the starter. He will be among the state’s top quarterbacks next season.
Along with Purdy coming back, Perry coach Preston Jones looks forward to several other returning players who are expected to have an impact in 2019.
“Our center, (Hezekiah) Lockhart, he’s back,” Jones said. “We’ve got another offensive lineman back. We’ve got a couple of tight ends coming back. We’ve got two good linebackers. We’ve got corners. We’re really excited about our future.”
It wasn’t an easy journey. As the sixth seed, Perry went into games as the lower seed in three of its four playoff games. Yet the Pumas went into the title game with the chance to complete a sweep of the top three seeds in 6A.
“I know those sophomores and juniors that were playing, they’re going to want it again,” Dickie said. “I know they’re going to work their butts off to get back here next season.”
Jones was especially proud of the senior class.
“(I told them to) hold their heads up,” he said. “You did a great job. Had a great run. Had a great season. This senior class has done a lot. Since they were sophomores they’ve done a great, great job. Nothing to be ashamed of.
“Of course, we want to win. We want the score to be flipped, but you can’t control that. They have a lot to be proud of and show our gratitude and appreciation to everyone that supported us.”
Jones often has spoken of building a program, and the back-to-back successful seasons, even though the Pumas dropped the title game in each, indicate that they have done it. In addition to back-to-back championship-game appearances the Pumas were in the semifinals in 2016.
Perry has cemented itself among the premium football programs in the state.
“(The sophomore and juniors) just need to keep working on it,” Dickie said. “We’ll go back to school next week and they’ll already be in the weight room. We just work year-round and every day just get in the weight room. We’ll go out there and improve speed, everything.
“So as long as they keep working, they definitely have the potential to get back (to the championship).”
Chandler 65, Perry 28
Perry 0 7 14 7 — 28
Chandler 14 13 24 14 — 65
CHAN – Brooks 1 run (Peterman kick), 9:52.
CHAN – Brooks 1 run (Peterman kick), 5:41.
CHAN – Conover 14 run (Peterman kick), 10:37.
PERRY – Young 17 run (Cross kick), 6:24.
CHAN – Brooks 4 run (kick failed), 3:04.
PERRY – Burns 33 run (McCarthy kick), 11:27.
CHAN – Brooks 58 run (Boyd kick), 11:17.
CHAN – FG, Boyd 29, 9:09.
PERRY – Dickie 4 pass from Purdy (McCarthy kick), 7:41.
CHAN – Liebrock 7 pass from Conover (Boyd kick), 5:12.
CHAN – Brooks 2 run (Boyd kick), 3:25.
CHAN – Brooks 1 run (Boyd kick), 11:21.
CHAN – Brown-Taylor 21 run (Boyd kick), 7:05.
PERRY – Purdy 9 run (McCarthy kick), 2:53.
First downs 24 29
Rush-yards 35-255 50-454
Comp-Att-Int 20-33-3 13-18-0
Pass yard 161 198
Total yards 416 652
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties 6-40 8-69
Perry – Purdy 20-138, Young 10-59, Burns 5-58. Chandler –.Brooks 33-334, Brown-Taylor 9-100, Conover 5-23. Conover 13-18-0, 198, team 3-(-3).
Perry – Purdy 19-31-3, 162 yards; Dickie 1-2-0, (-1). Chandler – Conover 13-18-0, 198.
Perry – Dickie 6-50, Boyd 6-45, Schmitz 4-46, Young 2-7, Patterson 1-14, Burns 1-(-1). Chandler –.Liebrock 6-105, Puffer 2-33, Brooks 2-16, De la Torre 2-10, Mceuen 1-34.