Chandler Basha coach Bernie Busken called quarterback Zach Werlinger ‘quietly intense.’
He’s not the type of player you’ll ever find pacing the sidelines trying to hype up the crowd and he may never be the one in the locker room with the most to say.
But when Basha found itself trailing 17-14 with 1:42 remaining in Friday night’s Division I contest against visiting Gilbert Highland, Werlinger’s quiet and calm leadership is exactly what its struggle offense needed.
With precision and poise, Werlinger marched Basha downfield and capped the final crunch-time drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Rajhan Meriwether with 30 seconds to go to reclaim the lead and set up the 21-17 victory over Highland.
“I’m definitely not a big speaker, but I think my teammates know they can count on me when the game’s on the line,” Werlinger said.
He went 16-for-25 on the night for 140 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He had a hand in every touchdown of the game, also scoring on a 15-yard run in the second quarter.
“It wasn’t his best night, but he pulled it together right at the end,” Busken said. “He works really hard and I’m proud of him.”
Until the final drive, Basha’s offense lacked its usual luster. Basha manage a 14-10 lead at halftime, but totaled only 127 yards in the first two quarters.
It may not have been the offense’s best performance, but Basha’s defense looked quite sharp. It forced two interceptions, blocked a punt and came up with key stops when it counted.
“They played well,” Busken said of his defense. “They’ve been getting better and better.”
The third quarter stayed scoreless and so did most of the fourth. Finally, with 1:42 remaining in the game, Highland was able to find daylight, scoring on a 17-yard touchdown by James Brletic to put the Hawks up 17-14.
But Basha’s final drive would be its best and that quick, explosive offense that Werlinger is capable of commanding would prove too much for Highland’s defense.
“Obviously we didn’t start as well as we’d have liked to, but we finished strong and I think that’s all that matters,” Werlinger said.