Wide smiles accompanied the sea of blue jerseys on the Chandler football field last Friday.
After years of heartbreak, the No. 5 Wolves finally broke through with a win against an elite opponent, scoring 41 second-half points to rally for a 41-31 win over No. 7 Basha.
As quarterback Darell Garretson said postgame, it was a monkey off Chandler’s back.
However, Chandler’s aspirations go beyond winning one big game, and it’s right back into the pressure cooker on Friday against No. 1 Mountain Pointe.
While the Wolves appreciated the victory over Basha and what it meant for the program, they didn’t do so for very long.
“On Saturday, we came back in at 6:30 (a.m.),” Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said. “The celebration was short-lived because we were evaluating them already and telling them what they did not do good. They’re pretty much ready to go again.”
The Wolves and Pride both enter with undefeated records and the type of talent to be legitimate Division I state title contenders. With a race more cluttered than in recent years, both teams can make a statement with an impressive showing.
Mountain Pointe has already knocked off the two teams from last year’s championship game — Hamilton and Desert Vista — but only did so by a combined five points. This game against Chandler is followed by a matchup next week with Brophy, so the Pride should have a great idea of their stature by the end of it.
“Our goal (against the big four) was (2-2), but we’ve already done that,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. “Now we’d like to win both, (or) feel like if we can split those games we are going to be in a great position assuming we can win out.”
Chandler has a similar scheduling gauntlet with Hamilton next week. If the Wolves run through this Basha-Mountain Pointe-Hamilton stretch undefeated, it catapults to the top of the rankings.
The Wolves’ offense moved the ball well last week against Basha, but penalties and turnovers kept them scoreless through the first two quarters. Chandler avoided those mistakes after intermission and scored touchdowns on six straight possessions to erase a 17-point deficit. With quarterback Darell Garretson finding tight end Patrick Baldenegro and wide receivers Dionte Sykes, Elijah Sykes and Mitch McCulley, Basha did little to slow down the Wolves.
Add in a running game that will get Myles Smith (ankle) back to complement Branden Jenkins, and the Wolves may have the most talented set of skill guys in the state. However, Mountain Pointe’s defense is stout, holding Hamilton and Desert Vista in check, so Chandler’s points should be harder to come by.
The Pride have a pair of elite weapons offensively in running back Garette Craig and wide receiver Jalen Brown, and will need big plays from them to keep pace with Chandler.
The title of Division I favorite has switched early and often this season due to upsets and the Wolves would love to keep that merry-go-round churning.
“Our goal every year is to beat the No. 1 team to be No. 1,” Aguano said. On Friday, “we’ll get that chance. I want to see how our guys react. This will tell us a lot.”