As Chandler Basha coach Chris McDonald broke down his team’s huddle late Friday night, he left them with one simple message: “Defense, this was your night.”
With two minutes left in the first half, the Bears — undefeated and No. 5 in the Open Division rankings this week — had trailed, 13-7. Their offense was sputtering and the defense wasn’t yet making its mark. But after No. 6 Gilbert Highland (6-1) scored on its penultimate possession of the first half, Basha (8-0) didn’t allow another point, riding a dominant second half to a 24-13 win.© Alex Gould Basha junior defensive lineman James Durand (63) hoists sophomore Bryson Dedmon into the air after scoring a touchdown against Highland at the Highland High School football field in Gilbert, Ariz. on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (Alex Gould/Special to The Republic)
“(The defense) settled down,” McDonald said. “Any time you come out and you play a team that's extremely physical, you don't know what to expect in terms of how you're going to play as a team defensively. And after they started thugging each other a couple times, I think it gave our kids confidence. Like, hey, we can be just as physical, if not more.”
The night got off to an ideal start for Basha. After the Bears forced a fumble on the first play of the game, junior running back Deshaun Buchanon capped off a 21-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown.
From there, Highland took control of the game. Led by quarterback Gage Dayley and running back Steven Trujillo, the Hawks scored two touchdowns in three drives to take a 13-7 lead.
“Their run game was gashing us,” sophomore defensive back Miles Lockhart said. “We were getting gashed. We couldn't stop it.”
The offense wasn’t much more successful. Repeatedly, Highland’s pass rush got into the backfield, making star quarterback Demond Williams Jr. uncomfortable and stifling Basha’s run game.
“They did a good job of taking away big plays,” McDonald said. “We have a lot of guys that can make big plays out here and they did a really good job limiting that and made us earn every yard.”
That didn’t last.
With 57 seconds left in the half, Basha finally got the explosive play it spent 23 minutes searching for. Buoyed by strong protection, Williams rolled right and dropped a perfect, 32-yard touchdown pass into the arms of receiver Bryson Dedmon.
On the other side of the ball, Lockhart laid a booming hit on Dayley as he attempted to turn a busted third-down play into a first down.
“Those ones always feel good,” Lockhart said. “When I see it coming, break on it. It felt good to hit that one.”
With Williams’s touchdown and Lockhart’s hit, Basha — dormant for much of the first-half — had completely flipped momentum. Still, McDonald wasn’t pleased. Offensively, the coaching staff changed up some of its blocking schemes at halftime, helping jumpstart the ground game. On the other side of the ball, they brought more men into the box and integrated more man-to-man looks to stem Highland’s rushing attack.
Both changes worked to perfection.
Buchanon’s seven-yard rushing touchdown early in the third quarter was Basha’s only touchdown of the half, but the offense controlled the game, limiting mistakes and putting its defense in good positions.
From there, the defense took over, stifling Dayley. The only time Highland crossed midfield all half came on its first drive of the fourth quarter, when Lockhart intercepted Dayley in the end zone on an attempted pass to senior receiver Ethan Svoboda.
“(Svoboda) went out cold early in the possession,” Lockhart said. “I was like, alright, they're not afraid to go at him. So when they broke over there, I heard ‘Ball,’ I knew he was gonna come and the ball was right there.”
Highland, though, wasn’t dead yet. Down eight, a blocked field goal late in the fourth quarter gave the Hawks life. To capitalize, though, they would have had to drive 90 yards in three minutes.
Instead, they went four-and-out, with Lockhart providing the coverage on Dayley’s final incompletion of the series, before kicker Trevor Miller iced the game with a field goal.
“I know this defense,” Lockhart said. “We're the best in the state.”
Through seven games, the Bears’ offense had been a dominant unit, scoring 46.4 points per game. On Friday, with the offense inconsistent, its defense — which allows 11.1 points per game — backed up Lockhart’s claim.
“This is a statement game to show that we can play in the Open,” Lockhart said. “We can compete with these different teams.”
Theo Mackie covers Arizona high school sports and Phoenix Rising FC. He can be reached by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @theo_mackie.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Led by dominant defense, Basha beats Highland
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nfl/led-by-dominant-defense-basha-beats-highland/ar-AAPRfzF6336