Chandler Hamilton has reached a level of prominence and dominance that often times the opposition enters a game knowing it has to do something out of the ordinary to get the game going in its direction.
Desert Vista, coming off a two-win season and playing without arguably its two best players, attempted to do just that Friday.
The Thunder were unable to take advantage of either gamble the coaching staff took in the first half Friday at Hamilton in a 35-17 loss in Class 5A Division I Fiesta Region action as the Huskies won their 31st straight game overall and 26th straight in Fiesta play, dating back to 2004.
"We did some things, made some adjustments, that we thought we could take advantage of, but there were too many mistakes," Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said.
Desert Vista (2-2, 0-1) opened the game with an onside kick that kicker John Geisking recovered at midfield, but the Thunder fumbled an exchange and had a false start on second down before punting. Then on the Thunder's best first-half drive, the only that wasn't a three-and-out, a wide receiver sprint pass was intercepted by Malcolm Holland.
"That was huge," said Hamilton coach Steve Belles, who added Holland (twisted ankle) was held out as a precaution after getting hurt on the interception. "That was as big as you get."
So neither play came through, but when the Thunder played Hamilton (6-0, 1-0) straight up they held their own.
"They will come up and hit you," Belles said. "The last few weeks I don't think people were giving enough credit to Desert Vista and (last week's opponent) Mountain Ridge. These aren't the teams from last year. They are much improved. Desert Vista is much improved and still playing without two of its best players. They won't go away that is for sure."
Desert Vista trailed 21-0 at the half, but opened the second half with an 80-yard drive that was finished off with Dominic Kereluk's 5 -yard run and then closed within 21-14 on linebacker Conner Fandindo's 45-yard interception return with 6 minutes and 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
"The offense got it going and then we got a big play on defense," Desert Vista senior lineman Riley Pendergast said. "Half-way through the third quarter and we are right there with them."
Then the individual talent of the Huskies took over as Kendyl Taylor went for 72 yards, on a highlight-reel type run when he broke some tackles and then stutter stepped back inside, on the first play from scrimmage before being tackled on the Thunder 1-yard line.
Hamilton quarterback Kyren Poe took in the sneak for the 28-14 lead.
Poe and Taylor were difficult to contain most of the night. Taylor finished with five catches for 78 yards and two scores along with five carries for 93 yards. Poe had 10 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns while completing 10 passes in 19 attempts for 163 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
"(Poe) was really composed tonight and I was proud of his effort," Belles said. "It was one of those nights (that Poe and Taylor had a good rhythm together). It's not liked we planned it; it just kind of worked out that way. It doesn't matter to me who gets the ball as long as we keep moving the chances."
The Thunder responded again as junior quarterback Hunter Rodriguez (15 of 19 for 197 yards, INT) continues to grow, leading the offense down the field through the air as Geisking connected on a 27-yard field goal to close within 28-17.
Hamilton scored again to put it away, but not before the Thunder defense forced the Huskies to two 3rd-and-very-long conversions (one on an iffy pass interference and the other on a Tanner Clay 39-yard catch).
The outcome of the game was never really in doubt after the Huskies' 21-0 first-half advantage, but the Thunder managed to make it a game.
"Steady improvement and that's what I ask from these young men," Hinds said. "Work hard in practice and come out in play hard (in the games)."
Hamilton 35, Desert Vista 17
First downs 11 21
Rushes-yards 23-57 28-240
Passing yards 197 163
Comp-Att-Int 15-20-2 10-19-1
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties 7-70 6-70
Desert Vista 0 0 14 3—17
Hamilton 7 14 7 7—35
H – Taylor 15 pass from Poe (Markette kick), 6:21
H – Johnson 2 run (Markette kick), 7:13
H – Taylor 12 pass (Markette kick), 1:12
DV – Kereluk 5 run (Geisking kick), 8:33
DV – Fandino 45 interception return (Geisking kick), 6:16
H – Poe 1 run (Markette kick), 5:47
DV – Geisking 27 field goal, 11:38
H – Poe 3 run (Markette kick), 3:39
Vitals: Hamilton (6-0, 1-0) scored two second-half touchdowns after Desert Vista (2-2, 0-1) closed within 21-14 for a Class 5A Division I Fiesta Region victory.
Highlight: Desert Vista started to show some life, trailing 14-0, but a wide receiver sprint pass ended with an interception in Hamilton's territory. The Huskies' ensuing score ended in a score just before half for a 21-0 lead.
Player of the Game: Hamilton's Kendyl Taylor had two first half touchdown receptions and then when Desert Vista made it a game in the second half, he ripped off a 72-yard run to step another touchdown. He finished with 10 offensive touches for 171 total yards.
Key stat: The Hamilton defense held the Desert Vista offense to a total of three first downs and 102 total yards in the first half.