GLENDALE, Ariz. — Finally, Chandler can breathe easy.
Eleven weeks after being humiliated, it found redemption Saturday night on the biggest stage.
With senior running back T.J. Green running wild, with sophomore quarterback Jacob Conover passing with poise and precision and with a line that refused to be controlled again, Chandler High beat No. 10 Phoenix Mountain Pointe 36-17 for the Arizona 6A Conference football state championship at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It was Chandler’s second championship in three years.
Chandler (12-2), the preseason No. 1 team by Gannett partner azcentral sports, won 10 consecutive games while hanging onto that 52-7 embarrassment by Mountain Pointe on Sept. 8.
The players played the game over in their minds, taking out frustrations on a weekly basis on opponents, scoring 56 points a game, before letting go of the buildup in the biggest game, leaving Mountain Pointe (13-1) with its only loss.
This time, after getting behind, there was no panic. Just vindication.
It came in every direction, forcing turnovers, tearing off big runs, getting help from an unexpected playmaker and with Green’s unrelenting will.
“He wanted the football,” coach Shaun Aguano said. “We just gave him the football. He was going to get the first down. That was huge for us. That was all a team effort with those guys up front.”
Green scored on runs of 46, 15 and 5 yards but his biggest run came in the final 11 minutes, trying to keep Mountain Pointe’s offense off the field, feeling a slight momentum shift.
Green’s 2-yard pickup, finding leverage, balance and strength to lunge for an extra yard to keep the drive alive on a third-and-1 play.
That drive ended up eating 7 minutes, before Conover found junior tight end Jarick Caldwell for a 7-yard touchdown that was the final dagger with 4:19 to play.
“We just had a game plan and stuck to it,” said Green, who finished with 233 yards rushing on 30 carries. “It feels great. Everybody was talking about that loss in the media. We practiced after that loss so hard.
“I love my O-line. They opened up holes for me.”
Before the playoffs, Caldwell had no touchdown catches. He had four in the playoffs, two in the state championship game to go with a two-point conversion catch after Chandler’s first touchdown that gave it an 8-7 lead, one it refused to surrender.
“Expect the unexpected,” Caldwell said.
Mountain Pointe quarterback Noah Grover, who missed six weeks with a broken femur, struggled in a semifinal win over Mesa Red Mountain and for the first half against Chandler, throwing two interceptions to Imani Lee, who missed the first meeting with Mountain Pointe.
Grover finished 7 of 20 for 113 yards and three interceptions. But his 11-yard scoring pass to Rashie Hodge Jr., near the end of the third quarter closed the gap to 29-17 and made Chandler fans sweat a little.
But in the end, Chandler’s defense made more plays and controlled the line of scrimmage that always has been hallmarks of Norris Vaughan-coached teams at Mountain Pointe.
“They wore us down,” Vaughan said. “They worked us on defense. They did a great job. And we turned the ball over.”
Momentum appeared to be swinging in Mountain Pointe’s direction after Conover had to retrieve an errant snap at his 15 for a 21-yard loss.
But after Grover had a pass dropped that would have gone for a big gain, Mountain Pointe punted with a little more than 11 minutes left. Chandler ran seven minutes off the clock with Green making tough runs.
“We prepared like crazy,” said Conover, who completed 12 of 22 passes for 172 yards and two scores.
Conover was intercepted twice by safety Isaiah Pola-Mao. But Conover was crafty, using his legs to keep the chains moving.
Conover’s 59-yard scoring pass to Caldwell (four catches, 103 yards) during a 22-point first half didn’t surprise Chandler, which had been waiting for the kid to make plays.
“He’s a beast,” Conover said. “People were sleeping on him. But he’s a beast.”
Take away Hodge’s 87-yard scoring run, Mountain Pointe had a total of 52 yards in the first half.
Mountain Pointe, which was averaging 450 yards total offense per game, figured Grover’s return would crank up the offense.
But after struggling in the semifinals in his first game back, Grover wasn’t better in the first half on Saturday.
When Grover did find a receiver, Hodge fumbled the ball away after gaining 27 yards.
“They came together and finished it off,” Aguano said. “I thought the first one (state championship) was hard. This was harder.”