The first snap of the Red Mountain season was a strip sack courtesy of the Chandler defense.
One play later, Chandler led 7-0. It eventually grew to 35-0 before the Mountain Lions tacked on two scores late in a 42-14 game.
It was a rather auspicious start and the Mountain Lions were admittedly unprepared.
The quarterback played four positions the year before, none of which were behind center. The player of the year candidate was in street clothes. The head coach had never led a team out of a locker room as the main man.
A lot was going on, and not much of it was good.
Twelve weeks later, Red Mountain has won 10 games in a row and gets another shot at Chandler.
The seventh-seeded Mountain Lions (10-2) faces the No. 3 Wolves (10-2) at Hamilton at 7 p.m. on Friday in the 6A Conference semifinals.
“This is what we wanted,” senior Lance Lawson, who missed the first game with an ankle injury. “We wanted to get back to semifinals, and I wanted the chance to play Chandler after missing it. They are the (defending) state champs. Those are the kind of games you want to play in.”
All teams evolve over the course of the season.
Chandler is better than it was in August and the Wolves are coming off a game they won 77-52 against No. 6 Pinnacle. They’ll walk on the field ultra-confident, well coached and college prospects all over the field.
Chandler has been the big-school classification’s premier program over the last three seasons.
With that said, there might not be a team in the state that has shed its August skin and morphed into something entirely different over the last three months more than the Mountain Lions.
Does it mean Red Mountain is ready to take that next step and be ready to take on the program that has won two of the last three state titles.
No way to tell until they step back on the field, but a certain guy who lives about two miles away from the Red Mountain campus is happy to find out.
“They are going to be tough to beat,” Red Mountain coach Mike Peterson said. “We have a week to prepare. I believe in my coaches, and I know the players won’t be scared or back down. We will be ready to play and expect to win.”
Red Mountain’s defense will have to take the lead if the Mountain Lions are going to return to the state title game for the first time since 2001.
Chandler has scored 559 points, averages 46.6 points and have scored at least 48 points during its eight-game win streak.
Junior quarterback Jacob Conover leads an offense that is wide-spread with talented players like wide receiver Gunner Romney and running back Drake Anderson.
“The coaches will give us a game plan and we will be ready,” senior outside linebacker Joey Sanchez. “(Coach Kyle) Enders is the best defensive coordinator. We will be more prepared this time.”
On the flip side, the Red Mountain offense has a different look than the first time around now that Lawson is back to being one of the state’s best multi-faceted offensive players and quarterback Cannon Griner has 11 games under center.
“I came off the field thinking we can only go up from here,” Griner said of the strip sack that started the first game. “I see the game completely differently now. We are a different offense and Lance is healthy.
“We are a different team.”
One that enters the semifinals exponentially more confident than the one that was timid and overwhelmed last time they lined up against Chandler.
“I’m sure (Chandler) is looking at us like that team they rolled,” wide receiver/defensive back Gerald Wilbon said. “That’s OK. We know how much better we are. Now we get another chance.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.