Hamilton coach Steve Belles took the playoff mantra "win or go home" and applied it to one play Monday night.
With the Huskies trailing rival Chandler by three points and facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 30 seconds remaining, Belles didn't opt for the short field goal to take his chances in overtime. He put his team's season and title defense on the line.
On the offensive line. And on running back Tyrell Smith, who barreled into the end zone for his third touchdown to lift the No. 3 Huskies to a 21-17 win over the No. 2 Wolves at Highland High School.
The decision to forgo overtime and play for a spot in Saturday's Division I state championship game didn't surprise Belles' players. It didn't surprise Chandler coach Shaun Aguano.
But more than a handful of shocked exasperations went up from the near-overflow crowd when Belles sent his offense back on the field out of a timeout after Smith was stuffed at the goal line on third down.
"Score," Smith said was his coach's message during the timeout.
The senior did, behind massive left tackle Casey Tucker.
"It was all or nothing," Belles said. "We were a yard away. We feel like we can get a yard any time we want."
Hamilton did nothing but run the ball on its final 11-play, 50-yard up-tempo drive. Smith picked up 48 of those yards, each time running off the left side of the offensive line.
"I couldn't go out not scoring; I couldn't go out like that," said Smith, who had 130 yards on 33 tough carries.
As the two teams did in their regular-season meeting — Chandler's first-ever win in the 18-year series — they traded scores late in the fourth quarter.
Chandler took a 17-14 lead on Dionte Sykes' 1-yard plunge over the pile with 3:40 to play. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the celebration was enforced on the kickoff and Hamilton took control at midfield.
"Let's not kid each other, that was big," Belles said. "We had good field position and that helped that final drive. It was a nice break for us."
It allowed Hamilton to exclusively use the run on the final drive, which wasn't all that different than the rest of the second half. The Huskies attempted just four passes after halftime.
"We thought we could run it right at them and we did," Belles said. "Our linemen allowed us to do that."
On a field still soft from the weekend downpour, Hamilton's straight-ahead running attack proved more effective than Chandler's running game that relied on cuts the turf didn't allow.
The Wolves rushed for just 106 yards on 30 carries and managed 158 yards of total offense in losing its first game since Sept. 20.
"The ref called unsportsmanlike on the celebration but we need to be more disciplined. That's on me," Aguano said. "Then they went down and scored and we just ran out of time. ... That was two of the best teams in the state, both from Chandler, and it went down to the last minute.
"It was for the state championship and I would have done the same thing, go for it."
The night started well for the Wolves after Hamilton punter Josiah Pola-Gate couldn't catch a high snap on the Huskies' first drive. Six plays later, Bryce Perkins scored on an 11-yard run.
Hamilton's Elijah Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 76 yards to set up Smith's first touchdown, a 3-yard burst.
Smith also had a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, after Chandler kicker Scott Knutson had given the Wolves a 10-7 lead.
"Losing to them earlier in the year, that didn't really matter," Smith said. "This is the one that mattered. We had to get this one and we did."
HAMILTON 21, CHANDLER 17
Hamilton 7 0 7 7 — 21
Chandler 7 0 3 7 — 17
C — Perkins 11 run (Knutson kick), 6:36
H — Smith 3 run (Brown kick), 4:40
C — Knutson 25 FG, 9:35
H — Smith 4 run (Brown kick), 3:50
C — D. Sykes 1 run (Knutson kick), 3:40
H — Smith 1 run (Brown kick), 0:30
First downs 16, 12
Rushing 43-156, 30-106
Passing 6-11-59-0, 9-16-52-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0, 3-0
Penalties-Yards 6-64, 5-40
RUSHING — Hamilton: Smith 33-130, Acles 5-26, Sasso 4-16, Pola-Gates 1-(-16). Chandler: Lucas 11-65, Perkins 17-39, D. Sykes 1-1, Chest 1-1.
PASSING — Hamilton: Sasso 6-11-59-0. Chandler: Perkins 9-16-52-0.
RECEIVING — Hamilton: Burke 1-31, Williams 1-19, Krcilek 2-7, Smith 1-2, Acles 1-0. Chandler: McCulley 2-27, Lucas 4-13, D. Sykes 2-12, E. Sykes 1-0.
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