Hamilton cruises past Salpointe Catholic in Open semifinal, earns 2nd crack at mighty Chandler — this time for all the marbles

By Brittany Bowyer | Photo by Will Edmonds

The Hamilton Huskies are headed to the 2020 Open Division final — and a rematch with Arizona Avenue rival Chandler — following a 58-14 victory over Salpointe Catholic on Saturday night at Hamilton High School.

With a powerful ground game and a rock-hard defense, the Huskies dominated the Lancers on both sides of the ball.

Hamilton started quickly, jumping out to a 7-0 lead on a 50-yard touchdown run by senior running back Rodney Clemente on the first snap of the game. The defense then forced a three-and-out, and sophomore Cole Martin returned the punt for a 53-yard touchdown.

With less than three minutes off the clock, the Huskies already were holding a 14-0 lead. 

“We really work hard at that,” Hamilton coach Mike Zdebski said about his special teams. “The players that are out there take great pride in what they do, and you can see it can really open a game up.”

Shortly after Martin’s big special-teams play, Salpointe Catholic ended up pinned deep in its territory on the following drive and was attempting to punt once again. This time, referees ruled the punter stepped over the line in the back of the end zone, making it a safety. 

On Hamilton’s following possession, Clemente took it 35 yards for another touchdown, putting the Huskies on top 23-0. 

“The game plan coming into the week was to mostly run the ball because we do have a new quarterback in — not that we don’t trust him, because we do trust him a lot — but when you have two good running backs, we can go and get the job done, and we did get the job done,” Clemente said. 

Huskies sophomore Roch Cholowsky started for the second consecutive week in place of standout junior Nicco Marchiol, who suffered a bruised left (throwing) shoulder in a 34-14 loss to Chandler in both teams’ regular-season finale. Zdebski says Marchiol’s status remains day-to-day. 

Salpointe Catholic got on the scoreboard with 25 seconds left in the first quarter on a six-yard touchdown run by senior David Cordero. The Lancers defense then stepped up, with junior Antonio Martinez intercepting a pass by Cholowsky at the Hamilton 27-yard line. The offense capitalized on the next snap, with junior Treyson Bourguet finding classmate Elijah Barclay in the end zone for a touchdown. 

With less than two minutes remaining in the half, Salpointe Catholic had cut Hamilton’s lead to 23-14. 

But the Huskies opened the third quarter with back-to-back touchdowns by senior running back Noah Schmidt — from 29 and four yards. The Hamilton defense then came away with interceptions on back-to-back Lancers possessions — first a pick-six by senior Zachary Lewis, followed by an interception that senior Mo Sarnowski returned to the Salpointe Catholic 10.

Two snaps later, Cholowsky found junior Christian Anaya in the end zone, extending the lead to 51-14 with 6:24 remaining.  

“We looked at the film at halftime and just started to blitz more, and then we just shut them out,” Sarnowski said. 

Finishing the scoring for Hamilton, Cholowsky picked up a fumbled snap and carried it over the goal line for a touchdown, resulting in the 58-14 final.   

“We got beat by a better football team,” Lancers coach Eric Rogers said. “We didn’t play well, and when you don’t play well against a team that’s really good, you get exposed, and we got our butts kicked tonight. That’s all there is to it.”  

After the Huskies closed the game and ran to the end zone to celebrate with their fans, the announcer came over the sound system with live commentary of the final play in the Chandler-Liberty semifinal. After scoring a touchdown to pull within a point at 35-34 in overtime, the Lions went for a two-point conversion but didn’t convert.

After one of Hamilton’s most dominant performances of the season, the Huskies found out they’d be facing their rivals once again, this time for the state title.

“It’s surreal. I can’t wait. I’m super excited because we’ve worked so hard for this,” Sarnowski said. 

The Open Division championship game is set for next Saturday at 6 p.m. at Desert Vista High School.

While his players are excited to get another shot at the Wolves, Zdebski already is mentally preparing for the challenge.  

“It’s the last game of the season,” he said. “You really don’t look at who you’re playing; it’s what do they do, what do we have to defend, and what we have to attack.”

Earlier:

Breaking down each of this week’s semifinal matchups

Looking back at a crazy quarterfinals Friday

6A offensive player of the year candidates by region

6A defensive player of the year candidates by region

Meet the new stars of Arizona high school football (offense)

Meet the new stars of Arizona high school football (defense)

A 53-man ‘NFL roster’ of Arizona high school players

Meet the state’s top players by position:

QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST

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