PHOENIX — For the second year in a row, No. 22 Chandler followed up its 6A State Championship with a victory at the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series.
The Wolves withstood a 284-yard rushing game by Northwestern (Miami, Fla.) quarterback Chatarius Atwell, Jr., en route to a 55-20 victory at Grand Canyon University.
Quarterback Jacob Conover was named MVP again. He threw for 341 yards and five touchdowns.
“It was all about the Chandler community,” Conover said. “We’re trying to put Chandler on the national stage and going back to back, beating Georgia and now Florida, definitely puts us up there as a national contender.”
Playing without star running back Drake Anderson (broken hand) and a quiet start from wide receiver Gunner Romney, Chandler relied on other contributors. Junior wide receiver Braydon Liebrock had a team-high five first-half receptions for 88 yards, including a touchdown in the first quarter. Jarick Caldwell scored twice and held a block for several seconds while waiting for a misdirection handoff to Romney, which allowed Romney to take it to the end zone.
The defense forced a pair of interceptions and fumbles. The Wolves were superb against the pass, holding Atwell to completing only 31 percent of his throws. They made hard hits, broke up passes and forced Atwell into bad throws.
The only time Northwestern could muster anything was on Atwell’s rushes. He scored all three touchdowns on runs of 45, 71 and 76 yards.
“Their quarterback is tough,” Chandler head coach Shaun Aguano said. “I think we held him and contained him … overall our defense played really well, causing turnovers.”
Conover, on the other hand, led a productive pass game with a few tricks up his sleeve. With a 27-7 lead in the second quarter, Chandler got the ball on Northwestern’s 35-yard line.
He handed the ball to running back Decarlos Brooks, who tossed it to Liebrock and reversed it. Liebrock tossed it back to Conover, who threw a touchdown pass to a wide-open Caldwell.
“We take plays from a lot of college teams and NFL players,” Conover said. “We got that play from ASU.”
Atwell scored his longest two touchdowns in the third quarter, but Decarlos Brooks was there to answer. He rushed for 115 yards in that quarter alone, finishing the game with 188 yards and a score.
“He’s waited his turn,” Aguano said. “Drake Anderson had a great postseason, but Decarlos’ turn was tonight and he proved that he’s going to be a player to be reckoned with next year.”
Romney also picked up his production late. He had four receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. He finished with three total scores.
“All of our receivers are threats,” Conover said. “When one guy doesn’t get involved, the other guy steps up, and that’s what Chandler’s all about.”
The Wolves finished their season with a bowl victory at home.
“Last year, we couldn’t bring everybody (to Texas), this year, we were able to spend this game with all of our guys and then our fans,” Aguano said. “Just a wonderful experience.”