Basha wipes out an early Highland lead with a first-half onslaught and coasts to an important win for its playoff hopes.

With three weeks left until the end of the season and playoffs looming, teams need to begin to think about how a win here or there might help them in the rankings.

For Chandler Basha – No. 16 of the top 16 in the Power Rankings – may have greatly increased its playoff chances holding off a tough Gilbert Highland team, 48-31 in a Division I, Section I game.

“We knew this was going to be a big one,” said Basha wide receiver Jared Schmidt, who finished with 188 yards receiving and two touchdowns. “It’s really good for us to get into the playoffs with this win. With all the hard work we put in practice and just the hard work we put into it, it’s coming true right now.”

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Schmidt was a favorite target for Basha quarterback Ryan Kelley throughout the night.

Trailing 7-0, Kelley connected with Hunter Rison to tie the game with 3:01 left in the first quarter on a 29-yard play that completed a quick four play, 77-yard drive.

“Our offense was just working the entire game,” said Kelley, who finished with 418 passing yards and four passing touchdowns. “It all starts with the (offensive) lineman down front, and they were keeping me protected. Then it comes to the receivers getting open and then it comes to me throwing the football.”

Kelley first connected with Schmidt to break the 7-all tie on an 81-yard pass that opened the flood gates for Basha (5-3, 2-1 section) as it scored 34 unanswered points to take a commanding 34-7 lead before halftime.

“We had to take advantage of what we were doing and go from there,” Basha coach Gerald Todd said. “One thing we had to do was to step it up and take care of some business. Our defense came back at the end and made two great plays that were crucial. Our defense stepped it up and did a great job.”

The Basha defense forced recovered two fumbles and had two interceptions.

After Highland (5-3, 1-2) got the ball back with 7:10 left in the game and trailing 48-31, it began a drive that looked like it might score, but Austin Williams got his first of two interceptions when he jumped up and picked off Keegan Michelson’s pass at the 5-yard line.

“The first (Highland) touchdown was on me, so I put it in my head that I was going to come out here and make a play,” said Williams, who also picked off Michelson again, ending a promising drive for Highland. “They were running slants all game, so I was going to cheat inside, and it was right there in my hands. We had to step it up and play our butts off, and that’s what we did.”

Highland’s Josh Chadwick finished with 260 yards on the ground and had one touchdown.

The Basha Bears have had quite a bit of success over past years. After watching them beat Perry 28-11, here are my takeaways of what has gone into their 4-2 start:

Kelley Is The Real Deal

There is a lot of buzz around the sophomore QB taking over for Zach Werlinger, and he showed it’s not just hype. Were there mistakes? Sure, but Kelley threw for three touchdowns, and could have very easily had a fourth if his receiver hadn’t tripped on a deep completion. He showed a lot of poise against a stout Perry defense that likes to bring pressure.

“We love Ryan.  Just because he is a sophomore doesn’t mean he can’t play, and he obviously can play,” senior defensive back Brandon Yamamoto said.

Weapons, Weapons, Weapons

Kelley is not short on weapons at his disposal in this offense. He has a reliable runner in Zach Reed.  There is also the dynamic speedster, Doc O’Connor. O’Connor turned a ten yard completion into the opening score of the game, and Perry didn’t give him much space to work with. Kelley also has two big receivers in Jared Schmidt and Hunter Dean-Gibson, who both caught touchdown passes. There is plenty of talent to put up big numbers for the Bears.

Shutdown Defense

What impressed me most was Basha’s defense. Yes, the offense has received plenty of attention, and deservedly so, but the Bears have a defense that can get into the backfield. Bailey Huggins, and J.D. Alexander hit Perry quarterback Austin Nightingale constantly and wouldn’t let the dual-threat quarterback get to the outside where he could run. Linebacker Zac Archer stuffed a 4th down run inside Basha’s five yard line to swing the momentum back in the Bear’s favor, cornerback Joe Storm had a crucial interception, and Brandon Yamamoto blocked a punt and recovered a fumble to seal the victory for the Bears. The unit as a whole played very well and came up big each time the team needed them to.

Tough road ahead

The Bears are now 4-2, but have a very tough portion of their schedule coming up. They host Hamilton, go to Highland, and host Chandler over the next three weeks. Building momentum off of this win will be crucial for the success of the coming weeks.

“There’s some things we need to fix obviously, but we’re going to get that fixed and we will come ready for Hamilton,” Yamamoto said.

Ryan Kelley, making his first varsity start at a school known for quarterbacks, threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two others to lead and rally Chandler Basha to a 31-23 victory over host Phoenix Desert Vista on Friday night in the first game of the season for both Division I schools.

“It makes me feel trusted by my coaching staff,” Kelley said, after being asked to describe making his first varsity start as a sophomore. “It really feels great. I was a little bit nervous before the game but I trusted my teammates. I trusted my line and I trusted my receivers.”

It was also a milestone night for Basha Head Coach Gerald Todd, who earned his first win after nearly a decade as an offensive assistant coach at the school.

“This is my first win as a head coach and it makes this win kind of special,” Todd said. “This is a special group of young men that played today. Desert Vista is a great program and to get a win against them is very, very special. … It showed a lot about our kids to overcome adversity (after falling behind in the second half).”

Kelley’s two rushing touchdowns came in the first half, both around left end. The first was a 16-yard run on a fourth and 1, and the second was a 14-yard rush about midway through the second quarter.

Leading 14-0, Basha allowed Desert Vista (0-1) to quickly get back in the game.

The hosts started their rally when kicker Riggs Tamburo made a 44-yard field goal with 3:55 left in the first half.

RELATED: High school football scoreboard

On the first play of the ensuing possession, Desert Vista defender Cade Van Raaphorst, who was all over the field all night, picked off a pass by Kelley and raced 25 yards for a touchdown.

Trailing 14-10 at intermission, Desert Vista’s T.J. Roberts returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards to Basha’s 15-yard line. Four plays later, Roberts capped a short drive with an 8-yard touchdown run, and Desert Vista led 16-14 with 9:34 left in the third quarter.

Basha, which ran a no-huddle, pass-oriented offense for most of the game, responded on its next possession and re-took the lead for good when Kelley threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to J.D. Alexander who dived into the goal-line pylon as defenders closed in.

Down 28-16, Desert Vista made a late bid for a comeback. Quarterback Alex Farina completed a 34-yard pass that help set up a 1–yard touchdown plunge by Roberts with 5:40 left.

After a short break for both teams – during which school officials scrambled to turn off the field sprinklers – Basha closed out the win with a lengthy 12-play drive and a 43-yard field goal with 17.7 seconds to play.

After recovering a squib quick, Desert Vista got off two plays from midfield but both were incomplete passes.