As the Chandler Wolves walked into their locker room Friday night, dejected and down 17 points to Chandler Basha, it wasn’t exactly a stretch to assume the game was over.
Not because the Wolves were trailing 17-0. With their offense, that’s not a deficit as much as it is a nuisance. Instead, it was a reflection on Chandler’s recent past and its inability to win big games.
Over the past few years Chandler has had as much talent — particularly at the skill positions — as any team in the state. They’d overwhelm lesser-skilled teams, put up ridiculous offensive numbers and make their fans believe that, finally, this might be the year.
But then August would turn into September and the schedule would get tougher and the Wolves would be exposed as a team that was big on style points but not much else.
In 2009 Chandler finished 8-4; its four losses were to Peoria Centennial, Phoenix Brophy Prep and Chandler Hamilton, twice.
In 2010, with Brett Hundley at quarterback, the Wolves went 7-4 and lost to Mesa Desert Ridge in the first round of the state playoffs.
Last year, Chandler opened the season with three consecutive wins, outscoring Yuma Kofa, Phoenix Maryvale and Gilbert Mesquite by a combined score of 150-0. The next week, it lost to Basha 58-41.
On and on it went, Chandler’s failure to matter when it mattered most. Most notably, the Wolves had never beaten their sister schools, Hamilton and Basha.
That’s why Friday’s wild 41-31 victory over the Bears was so important. It doesn’t mean Chandler is the favorite to win the Division I state title, but maybe, just maybe, these Wolves have a little more fight in them than their predecessors.
“When I came in, the Number 1 thing I wanted to change was the psyche of the kids when it came to finishing games,” said coach Shaun Aguano, who took over for the retired Jim Ewan after the ’10 season. “Every time we got down before, the kids would start thinking, ‘It’s the same, old Chandler.’
“They kept hearing that. They read the newspapers. Maybe this gets us over the hump.”
Chandler easily could have fallen back into its bad habits. It turned the ball over three times in the first half, killed itself with silly penalties and had no chance against Basha’s offense. At halftime, it wasn’t a question of whether Basha would win, but by how much
But the second half was an eye-opener. Chandler scored touchdowns on its first six possessions, its defense actually put together three consecutive stops and, finally, as the seconds ticked down, the Wolves began celebrating their first-ever victory over a sister school.
“That’s very important,” Aguano said. “We don’t want to be the stepchild of the district … Hopefully in the big games now they have the confidence to know they can come back and win.”
One game doesn’t change everything. Chandler’s defense is still suspect; it allowed Basha to roll up 518 total yards. If the Bears don’t turn the ball over twice early in the third quarter, the Wolves likely are bemoaning another opportunity lost.
Also, Chandler’s next two games are against Phoenix Mountain Pointe and Hamilton. Lose both of those, and no one will consider this a different Wolves team.
But the changing of a reputation has to start somewhere. Chandler is 4-0 and Basha has been beaten.
“It’s always been, ‘Chandler has a lot of skill but can’t get it mentally done,’ ” Aguano said. “From a mental standpoint, this was a huge win for us. I think our guys are getting tougher.”
Reach Bordow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-7996. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.