Many Tempe players took their lumps as young players, but they also gained experience and grew hungry for a win.
The Buffaloes matched their entire win total of the last two years as they won a 32-28 thriller in the season opener Thursday at city-rival McClintock.
With just one win last season, Tempe showed some big weapons as they pulled out a win and beat their Tempe neighbor school for the first time since 2004.
The teams went through four lead changes in an exciting second half. The Buffaloes took the lead for good with 8:13 left in the game when sophomore quarterback Emanuel Gant hooked up with Jordan Wiiatr for a 20-yard touchdown.
The Chargers. whose running attack got on track in the second half, then drove to the Buffaloes' 13-yard line, but Tempe lineman Devonte Gray got in the backfield to stop talented running back Sammy Jones as the Buffaloes defense held.
"(Jones) is good and I didn't want to look bad, I saw the play develop and knew that I had to make that stop for Tempe football," said Gray.
McClintock eventually got the ball back for one last desperation pass, but the Chargers' passing game struggled all night, and Massiah Smith came up with an interception preserving the win.
"This win was more about winning and moving forward," said Tempe coach Brian Walker. "(Defensive coordinator) Tim McBurney and the entire coaching staff had the game plan locked in and the kids did a great job of executing it."
Gant, who threw for over 1,000 yards as a freshman, began his sophomore season hitting on 19 of 24 passes for 261 yards and was in on all five TDs. He threw for four and ran for another. He hooked up with speedy junior Sebastian Watkins for a trio of touchdowns of 4, 16 and 23 yards. Watkins had 11 catches for 130 yards while Raija Holt hauled in six passes for 76 yards.
"This will be the year I step up and make it happen, it has been 12 long years to beat McClintock and it's a great way to start the year in our rivarly game," Watkins said. "It helps to have (Gant) who I feel is the best quarterback in the state of Arizona and only a sophomore."
Said Gant: "The line gave me time to throw and they deserve the credit. I have great backs and receivers to throw to and that also makes my job easy."
After Gant and Watkins gave the Buffaloes a 12-0 lead with drives of 60 and 57 yards. The Chargers got on the board as Josh Aberle broke a 33-yard TD run. Trevin McKinney took the squib kick and had a long return to set up Gant, who scored on a 1-yard keeper to put Tempe up 19-6 at intermission. McClintock, behind the rushing of Jones, had first-and-goal at the one yard line before signal caller Xavier Gomez found Jones for a 4-yard TD pass on fourth down to cut the lead to 19-14 with 4:07 left in the third quarter.
The Chargers then took their first lead at 22-19 as Aberle hit paydirt from four yards out with 1:28 left in the third. The touchdown was setup by Aberle's 40 yard punt return and a Jones' 25-yard run. Smith had a long kick return for the Buffaloes, and Gant and Watkins worked their magic again for a 23-yard strike for a 26-22 lead going into the final quarter.
Jones who did not start at running for the first half of last season took up where he left off last year as he rushed for 215 yards on 27 carries. Jones had a five yard TD run with in the early stages of the final quarter to put the Chargers ahead for the final time at 28-26. Then Gant and company quickly answered to take the lead for good.
2004 was the last winning season for the Buffaloes.
"We were going with what was working and that was our running game," McClintock coach Matt Lewis said. "Coach Walker is doing God's work. That is the best Tempe team I have seen in eight years."
Tempe 32, Tempe McClintock 28
First Downs: Tempe (11), McClintock (12)
Rushing: Tempe 24-48, McClintock 55-364
Comp-Att-Int: Tempe 20-25-261-3, McClintock 2-11-6-3
Fumbles-Lost: Tempe 1-0, McClintock 1-0
Penalties-Yards: Tempe 10-80, McClintock 13-88
Tempe 6 13 7 6------32
McClintock 0 6 16 6------28
T- Watkins 4 pass from Gant (kick blocked)
T- Watkins 16 pass from Gant (pass failed)
M- Aberle 33 run (run failed)
T- Gant 1 run (Victor Perez Rodriquez kick)
M- Jones 4 pass from Gomez (aberle run)
M- Aberle 4 run (Aberle run)
T- Watkins 23 pass from Gant (Rodriquez kick)
M- Jones 5 run (run failed)
M- Wiatr 20 pass from Gant (pass failed)