The separation between the very best football teams in Arizona and the rest continued Friday night.
No. 2-ranked Hamilton, facing another highly-ranked team hoping to come up with an upset, downed 5A Fiesta Region rival Gilbert 36-21.
The visiting Tigers came into the game ranked No. 7. Peoria (another highly ranked team at the time) tried and failed to beat the Huskies a few weeks ago, and Gilbert (6-3, 2-2) fell short on Friday.
Hamilton distanced itself from Gilbert via the big play. Doing very little on offense through the first quarter, the Huskies scored the game's first touchdown on a 79-pass from junior quarterback Travis Dixon to senior wide receiver Jeremy Tucker. Tucker had gotten past the Tiger secondary and easily outran the defense to the end zone.
It was the senior's best game at Hamilton (7-1, 4-0), with five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He added a 64-yard scoring catch in the fourth quarter.
“He put on a show tonight,'' Hamilton coach John Wrenn said.
Gilbert trailed, 14-0, at the half, but adjustments to the Tigers' offense by coach Jesse Parker had Hamilton scrambling in the third quarter. Gilbert scored three straight touchdowns to take a 21-14 lead heading into the final quarter.
“We changed our formations and spread them out,'' Parker said.
“You have to give him credit for changing it up,'' Wrenn said.
The Tigers got help from Dixon, who fumbled twice in the quarter (his first two fumbles of the season). Both were eventually converted into touchdowns.
Gilbert running back Bob Ili, who had 20 carries for 90 yards, scored on runs of 2 yards and 1 yard, and quarterback Aaron Webster ran in from 5 yards out as Gilbert took the lead.
It was the first time since Hamilton's season-opening loss to Mountain View that the Huskies had faced this kind of adversity this late in a game.
Dixon responded by leading Hamilton on an 11 play, 80-yard drive that ended with Tramell McGill scoring from 2 yards out. McGill had another quality game with 113 yards and two touchdowns. After a Gilbert penalty, Hamilton and Wrenn made a gutsy move, going for two points and the lead. It worked when Dixon hit running back Adam Vincent with a short pass. It gave the Huskies the lead for good at 22-21.
“I had to make sure everyone still believed in me,'' Dixon said. “I had to raise my confidence level.''
“He knew what he had to do,'' Wrenn said. “He's our quarterback. He had to grow up.''