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As soon as the football players got back to Tempe High that Sept. 7 night, coach Brian Walker got everyone together and told them, “We just got beat by a better team and we’ve got to let it go.”
With three players taken to the hospital in the first half and the game stopped with a little more than a minute to play until halftime after a fifth personal foul penalty on Scottsdale Saguaro, Tempe, trailing 31-0, forfeited the game.
Quarterback Emanuel Gant was one of four players knocked out of the game. He suffered a neck bruise on a sack and was taken by ambulance to a hospital.
Gant has helped Tempe forget about that night and move on.
Without missing a game, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound sophomore has led the Buffaloes (6-2) to four wins in the past five games, putting them on the brink of making the Division III state playoffs for the first time since 2008. That team went 5-6.
Gant has helped Tempe clinch its first winning season since 2004.
“I think that game brought us closer as a family,” Gant said. “Everybody has had each other’s back since the beginning.”
The past two years, Tempe was a combined 1-19. Last year, as a freshman, Gant was thrust into the starting quarterback role on the varsity.
It was learning steps that he has taken into this season and, with a talented batch of receivers, Tempe football has become relevant again and college coaches, including Arizona State’s Todd Graham, have the big, mobile, strong-armed kid on their radar.
This season, with 2,319 passing yards – third-most in the state – Gant is completing 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 20 touchdown passes with seven interceptions. Even against Saguaro, Gant was moving the ball, completing 11 of 14 for a little more than 100 yards, before the injury.
Once Gant had to leave the game, Tempe was lost.
Gant has given Tempe a huge shot of a football excitement not seen in almost a decade. Last week, in a 49-39 win over Phoenix Arcadia, Gant completed 32 of 46 passes for 493 yards and five interceptions without an interceptions. That’s an off-the-charts passer rating of 140. The Arizona Cardinals and Wells Fargo named Gant the Arizona High School Football Player of the Week.
Walker’s main task has been to keep Gant level-headed.
“We always have to look at what’s in front of us,” Walker said.
This week, the focus has been Chandler Seton Catholic, a 7-1 team that could make a run for the Division IV championship.
There is so much potential for Gant, who is still growing and only recently began to lift weights.
“Lord willing, he is going to be something else,” Walker said.
Gant is doing a good job keeping his success in perspective. He has remained humble during the midst of his ascension.
“We just take it week to week and go from there,” Gant said. “I always liked the community here. It’s a family. I just want to keep growing here.”
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