Football: Highland deals Basha first loss

September 20, 2019 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Highland's Tanner Crandall prepares to haul in his second TD reception of the first half late in the second quarter from quarterback Gage Dayley in the Hawks' 40-7 victory over Basha. (Azpreps365 photo).

The rough and tumble portions of Basha's and Highland's football schedules officially began in earnest Friday night. Both have shown well thus far, but rigid region schedules await meaning notching a win in their matchup would be an impetus to their upcoming menus.

Making matters worse for Basha this night, starting quarterback Gabe Friend was not able to play and won't be able to the rest of the year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Highland took no pity and outplayed Basha in a 40-7 triumph in a 6A game at Highland High.

Highland pieced together a trio of short, first-half scoring drives and added an exclamation point just before intermission with an interception return for a touchdown. A 27-7 lead at halftime essentially was game, set and match Highland.

Highland sophomore quarterback Gage Dayley tossed three touchdown passes and running backs Danny Wood (unofficially 10 carries for 141 yards) and Max Davis contributed a scoring jaunt each. Two of Dayley's scoring passes went to Tanner Crandall and the final one to Tru Tanner.

"We're a physical team and they are a fast team," Highland coach Brock Farrel said. "We had to see which team won out."

Farrel is right, but his defense isn't exactly slow to go with its physicality as Basha coach Chris McDonald did attest. The Bears did the best they could filling in for Friend by moving athletic wide out Micah Harper to quarterback.

Harper, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior, operated out of the wildcat. Basha was hoping to use his speed to assault the perimeter, but Highland was outstanding defending the run and boundaries such that Basha managed only 48 yards on the ground in 29 attempts. Harper was close to making a couple big gains, but the Hawks sure tackling didn't allow. There were no rushes for double digits.

Harper fared well in the passing game given it was his first start at quarterback. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 188 yards and the Bears' lone TD. That was a 68-yard home run connection to Basha's top receiver Zion Williams. That happened with 7:11 left in the second quarter and cut Highland's lead at the time to 14-7.

Highland crippled Basha with two scores 16 seconds apart in the final two minutes of the half. Dayley hooked up with Crandall for their second TD from 30 yards out with 2:05 before half. On the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Harper zipped a quick pass to his right as he'd done numerous times in the half, but this time Hawks' cornerback Ja'sean Lee was waiting, timed it perfectly and bolted 25 yards to the end zone push the lead to 27-7.

"I thought our defense played very well," Farrel said. "Other than two big plays they weren't able to generate much."

Leading the defense were senior linebacker Wood, who wasn't too shabby running the ball as well and junior linebacker Kam Cullimore. Both were all over the field. Wood to noone's surprise as he continues what he started as a two-way player last year. Kam Cullimore is following in the footsteps of older brother, Kohner. Only difference the first name.

McDonald reminded his team after the game that this was not the end of their season and they need to take that to heart.

"I was proud of our kids," McDonald said." They didn't give up. We missed a few opportunities the first half. We don't get a tune-up game, and playing a good team without one of the top quarterbacks in the state. We spent the week revamping things, trying to find some things. We have tough games coming up.

...."We have to keep our confidence."