October 9, 2004
A lot of defense. Just enough offense. That was a lethal combination for fifth-ranked Chandler on Friday night.
The Wolves forced five turnovers, and quarterback Brad Johnson threw two touchdown passes as the Wolves blanked host Gilbert, 23-0, in the 5A Fiesta Region opener for both schools.
Chandler improved to 6-0 with the victory and equaled its win total of last season, when it fell just short of the postseason. It’s hard to imagine the Wolves not being a lock for the postseason this year. One win in their last four games should accomplish that.
‘‘This was a big step for us,’’ coach Jim Ewan said. ‘‘Our defense has carried us all year, and they were outstanding again tonight. Gilbert is always a tough game, and it was important we play well.’’
Chandler set the tone early by creating the game’s first break midway through the first period.
On a second-and-10 play at the Gilbert 20, Chandler forced the first of three Gilbert fumbles in the quarter. Linebacker Ricky Moore recovered the fumble (he had two recoveries) near the Tigers 20 and returned it to the 3. On the next play, running back Reno Blomquist (15 carries for 73 yards) bulled into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Gilbert used a good kick return by Mark Kelly to set up near midfield, but a bad exchange resulted in fumble No. 2, which the Wolves recovered at their 38.
The teams combined for three more turnovers before the first period ended, negating good field position for both.
Chandler’s only fumble of the night set Gilbert up at the Wolves 24. The Tigers advanced to the 11 before two penalties and a sack vaporized the threat.
Chandler, taking momentum from the defensive stop, pieced together its only long drive of the game. The Wolves marched 71 yards in eight plays capped by Johnson’s first scoring pass — nine yards to James Richardson 6:50 before halftime.
‘‘When we stepped on the field, this game was important for us getting to the playoffs or not,’’ Blomquist said. ‘‘Winning this one makes the road a little easier.’’
Gilbert (3-3, 0-1) wasn’t out of the game at halftime despite four first-half turnovers. The key was coming up with the first big play or score of the second half. That, however, went to the Wolves.
On the first possession of the second half, on third-and-11 at the Chandler 19, Johnson tossed a short completion to running back Anton Bernard. Bernard shed a tackler as he made the catch and broke free from another turning a 10-yard gain in to an 81-yard TD. That made the score 20-0 with 10:31 left in the third period.
‘‘That sparked us, and I think it broke their back,’’ Blomquist said.
Chandler’s fifth fumble recovery, after a blind-side hit on Gilbert quarterback Aaron Wiese, set up the final points of the game — a 26-yard field goal by Darren Sweely.
Gilbert fullback Bobby Ili carried 20 times for 121 yards — 85 in the second half. But the Tigers totaled just 178 yards of offense for the night — only 36 yards of it passing.
‘‘Gilbert’s offense is similar to ours in that it’s not designed to come from behind,’’ Ewan said. ‘‘That’s why getting that touchdown to start the third quarter was so crucial.’’