SCOTTSDALE — After losing to Scottsdale Saguaro on Friday night, a somber Sabino team huddled around coach Jay Campos and tried to fight back tears. With its eight-game winning streak ended, a resilient Sabino side faced a grim reality — they’d lost to a better team.
Saguaro outscored and outplayed its Tucson foe on the way to a 48-20 win.
“We knew these guys were a great football team,” Sabino senior Matt Bushman said. “We put it all on the table — we tried our best — but they’re a great football team, and they just beat us. They outmanned us.”
Sabino has been one of the strongest teams in Division III the past three years, and even after a rocky 1-2 start to the season, the Sabercats earned themselves a No. 7 seed and had an offense playing at a peak level.
On Friday night, though, No. 2 Saguaro played on another level, dissecting the Sabino defense on its way to an easy win in the Division III quarterfinals. Saguaro advances to play Goodyear Desert Edge in next week’s semifinals.
The loss marked the final high school games for Bushman and lineman Andrew Mike, who went 30-6 as full-time starters. Bushman has verbally committed to BYU, and Mike is scheduled to choose among a handful of major-conference offers, including one from the UA.
“ ‘Big Mike’ and ‘Bush’ have been starters for three years; we’ve been through a lot of big games together,” coach Jay Campos said.
“You don’t replace two guys like that. They’re fantastic ballplayers. We’re going to miss them, that’s for sure.”
The seniors’ hopes for a semifinal berth didn’t last long Friday night. It took Saguaro just 10 plays to gain six first downs and take a 14-0 lead.
While the Sabino (9-3) offense kept chipping away, it was unable to get its usual big plays. With the Saguaro offense firing on all cylinders, the visitors never challenged streaking Saguaro (11-1).
“We needed to score points early on, and we had opportunities to score, and we didn’t do that,” Campos said. “A team this good, you can’t miss on opportunities.”
Bushman didn’t let his Sabino career end without a fight. He gained 83 yards through the air to finish his senior season with 1,583 yards and a Division III-best 26 touchdowns.
But even when quarterback Emilio Araiza (16 of 31 for 272 yards) had the passing attack clicking, the normally strong Sabino run game was non-existent. The team finished with just 19 rushing yards on 15 attempts in the first half.
Sabino went three-and-out on its first two series of the game and converted on just
4 of 11 third downs all night.
“That’s killer,” Campos said. “We knew going three-and-out against an offensive team like that, it’s tough to come back from it.”
Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer accounted for all seven of his team’s touchdowns, throwing for five and running for two. The Cal commit finished with 428 total yards.
It was the senior’s second playoff victory against Sabino in three years; Saguaro upset the Tucsonans in the 2011 state semifinals.
Sabino’s Adam Smith kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, and Sabino trailed 28-12 on Friday night.
Things spiraled out of control quickly afterward; Sabino turned the ball over on its first three drives, twice because of interceptions and once on downs, and Saguaro seemingly couldn’t stop scoring.