Scottsdale Saguaro’s 77-48 victory over Goodyear Desert Edge in the Division III semifinals on Monday night (Nov. 25) was one of the most important wins for Saguaro in quite a long time.
“We enjoyed the win, then on Tuesday we came back for practice,’’ Saguaro coach Jason Mohns said. “I asked the players, “Did everybody tell you how great you are?’ They said yes. Then I said, “All right, it doesn’t mean anything after a couple of hours.’ ’’
You’re as good as your next game, and that next game is the biggest one of all for the second-seeded Sabercats – on Friday (Nov. 29) against No. 4 Queen Creek. Kickoff is 1 p.m. at the University of Arizona Stadium in Tucson.
Saguaro, seeking its seventh title, is 12-1. Queen Creek, the defending state champion is 11-2.
Despite a 35-28 win over Queen Creek on Oct. 4, Mohns isn’t taking anything for granted.
“There’s a reason why they are playing for their second straight state title,’’ Mohns said. “They have a great team, and it is going to take everything we have to beat them.’’
Weather forced postponement of the semifinals, so now those teams in the finals will have a shorter week to prepare – with Thanksgiving in between.
Mohns said facing a familiar opponent in a short week “is good from a preparation standpoint. We know them, but they also know us.’’
Saguaro’s offense, led by senior quarterback Luke Rubenzer, has received a great deal of notoriety. But Mohns is proud of the way his defense has played, and knows it will have its work cut out for it.
Queen Creek’s top player is Weston Barlow, who has rushed for 2,049 yards and 22 touchdowns. Matt Guida, who missed several games with an injury, including the first Saguaro game, is back and could be the X factor this time around. He has rushed for 345 yards and nine TDs.
“Queen Creek has a good offensive line. They are well-coached and very disciplined, the schemes they run. And that Barlow kid is tough to stop,’’ Mohns said.
“We have some guys who play offense who turn around and play defense. We have to rely on takeaways and three-and-outs and give our offense good field position.’’
Rubenzer emerged as one of the state’s top players this season, throwing for 3,955 yards and 58 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He threw nine TD passes against Desert Edge in the semifinals. He has the state career record for TD passes with 127 and with three on Friday can set a state season record.
He also can pull the ball down and run, with 1,154 yards and nine TDs.
J.T. Nettleton has 55 catches for 1,485 yards and 23 TDs, and Christian Kirk has 61 catches for 1,082 yards and 15 TDs.
Travis Schureman, who took over as Queen Creek coach for Joe Germaine after the second game of the season, said the fact that the Bulldogs are the defending champs adds to the hype.
“Every team wants to be the team that knocks you off,’’ said Schureman, whose team defeated rival Williams Field 31-28 in the semifinals. “We are excited for our opportunity.’’
The Bulldogs can’t rely too much on championship game experience, he said, because a lot of starters are gone from last season.
“But we still hope to continue to build on what we started,’’ he said.
Queen Creek’s defense is led by linebacker Nate Neville, the team’s leader in tackles with 119, and lineman Skyler Bollman, who is second with 94. Bollman also has nine sacks.
Schureman says his team will have to play one of its best all-around games.
“We didn’t stop their offense the way we should have,’’ he said of the first meeting. “And our offense didn’t take care of the ball. We have to hang onto the ball and keep it away from them.’’
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Saguaro Sabercats (12-1)
Coach: Jason Mohns
Lost to Scottsdale Chaparral 52-27
Def. Phoenix South Mountain 53-0
Def. Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain 69-21
Def. Apache Junction 69-0
Def. Tempe McClintock 56-0
Def. Queen Creek 35-28
Def. Gilbert Williams Field 40-31
Def. Phoenix Greenway 48-0
Def. Gilbert Higley 55-28
Def. Tempe Marcos de Niza 46-36
Def. Phoenix Washington 62-21
Def. Tucson Sabino 48-20
Def. Goodyear Desert Edge 77-48
Queen Creek Bulldogs
Coach: Travis Schureman
Def. Florence Poston Butte 21-12
Def. Gilbert Highland 21-14
Def. Show Low 33-12
Def. Tempe McClintock 42-18
Def. Gilbert Higley 56-35
Lost to Scottsdale Saguaro 35-28
Def. Phoenix South Mountain 64-0
Lost to Gilbert Williams Field 42-17
Def. Apache Junction 57-7
Def. Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain 46-26
Def. Glendale Cactus 38-10
Def. Peoria 42-14
Def. Gilbert Williams Field 31-28