LUTHER — Four turnovers in the fourth quarter wrecked Chandler's comeback hopes as the Lions saw their season come to an end at Luther, 26-8, Friday night in the opening round of the Class 2A playoffs.
Chandler came into the contest on a four-game win streak, was 6-4 overall and entered the playoffs as the third-place team from District 2. Luther (10-1), which also has the nickname Lions, was the runner-up in District 1.
Trailing 20-8, Chandler's best hope for a rally suffered two major blows in the first minute of the fourth quarter. On the first play of the period at the Luther 17, Chandler quarterback Kaden Jones ran 12 yards before the ball was knocked out of his arms. The home Lions took over at their 5. Two plays later, Luther's Coleman Stastny got loose for a 96-yard touchdown run that made the score 26-8 with 11:07 remaining.
“We had a couple of turnovers trying to put the ball in the end zone quick so we would have time to make a comeback,” Chandler head coach Jack Gray said. “Getting behind – that wasn't our game plan.”
As desperation set in, Chandler had interceptions on three straight possessions. The visiting defense did its best to make up for the offensive mistakes and forced two Luther fumbles, but the offense was unable to get itself on track late in the game.
“We felt like we had them where we wanted them at times, but just let some opportunities slip out of our hands,” Gray said. “They made some big plays when they needed big plays. We were ready, but it just wasn't our night tonight.”
Luther's biggest play was the 96-yard romp, but the home team also had scoring plays of 25 and 29 yards. Both of those TD passes came on fourth down.
Chandler's lone scoring drive came on in first possession. The Lions won the coin toss, received the opening kick, and went 60 yards in seven plays. Senior running back Dylan McKinney capped it with a 1-yard TD run and also ran in the 2-point conversion. The big play of the drive was a 34-yard scramble by Jones.
Luther responded with its first TD two possessions later after partially blocking a Chandler punt and getting the ball at the CHS 24.
Chandler led 8-7 at the end of the first quarter, but trailed 14-8 at halftime.
At the break, the visiting Lions had a modest lead in total yardage, 129-103. By the end of the game, the yardage battle was even closer as the home Lions barely came out ahead, 309-302.
McKinney led Chandler with 121 yards on 24 rushes and the only TD. Jones finished 5-of-19 passing for 108 yards with four interceptions.
Luther senior QB Peyton Wilson paced the home team with an efficient 14-of-25 passing night for 138 yards and 2 TDs. Stastny ran nine times for 141 yards to lead the rushing effort.
Chandler finished its season 6-5 overall.
“We've fought a long way to get where we've been with our program to get in the playoffs,” Gray said. “We got here where we wanted to be and fought through a lot of adversity through the season. It took a lot of things to put together to get here.”
Luther's reward for the victory is the opportunity to face the top-ranked, undefeated, reigning Class 2A champion, Sperry.