Dae Dae Hunter made a huge opening statement on Saturday night
On the first play of the first Open Division state football championship game, the senior tailback tore off a 71-yard run, and Chandler was on its way to a 42-35 victory over shell-shocked Scottsdale Saguaro at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium.
“That was a statement, ‘We’re here for business,’ ” first-year Chandler head coach Rick Garretson said.
This was Chandler’s fourth consecutive state championship and fifth in six years. The others came in 6A, before the Arizona Interscholastic Association opened it up with an eight-team Open for the top schools among the big conferences (6A through 4A).
After all of the big plays Chandler made on both sides of the ball, the Wolves made a resounding statement that nobody can touch them this season, not even a team that came in with a 57-game winning streak against in-state competition.
In the end, Chandler had to put together an 80-yard drive that consumed seven minutes off the clock to take a 42-28 lead, then overcome one more Saguaro scoring drive, led by quarterback Tyler Beverett.
Chandler led by as much as 28-7 early in the second half, before Saguaro settled down in the rain and ended up making a memorable first Open.
“Any time you play a championship caliber team like Saguaro, they’re going to make runs,” Chandler coach Rick Garretson said. “And they did. And we answered. It was almost like the same thing that happened last year against Perry. They came out in the second half and scored. And we came back and scored.
“We turned things back around,” Garretson said. “We had a great drive at the end of the game, seven minutes, taking the clock down, (run game coordinator) Chris Chick doing his magic in the run game.”
Most of Saguaro’s wins were strung together against 4A teams, but it did beat Tucson Salpointe for the past two 4A titles fairly easily. Salpointe gave Chandler a greater challenge in the semifinals, losing 24-16.
But Chandler had Hunter for only one play in that game. He had injured his ankle in a quarterfinal rout of Chaparral. Garretson was trying to keep Hunter rested for the Open final. Hunter talked his way onto the field for one play when Chandler’s offense was sputtering to begin the game against Salpointe.