Two years ago, an underdog Scottsdale Saguaro team with a first-year starter at quarterback traveled to Tucson and knocked off top-seeded Sabino in the Division III state semifinals.
Sabino senior Matt Bushman and company will seek revenge tonight, when No. 7 Sabino takes on No. 2 Saguaro in the Division III state quarterfinals.
“We just need to prepare as best we can,” Bushman said. “They’re a really dynamic team and they’re obviously a great team.”
With host Saguaro riding a 10-game win streak, a Sabino victory won’t be easy. But here are three reasons why the visitors could find themselves enjoying the poetic justice of a similar upset:
1. Star power. While current Arizona State running back D.J. Foster was the main culprit in Saguaro’s 2011 win, then-sophomore quarterback Luke Rubenzer played a part too, accounting for three scores. Since then, the Cal commit has grown into one of the most dynamic players in Arizona.
“What you can’t do is lose track of where (Rubenzer) is at,” Sabino coach Jay Campos said. “If you try to solely play the pass or solely play the run, he’s going to hurt you one way or another.”
The teams share their nicknames — it’s Sabercats vs. Sabercats — and the luxury of FBS-level talent. Bushman, a BYU commit, has 1,500 yards worth of passes and 26 touchdowns. Sabino also boasts a three-star lineman in Andrew Mike.
2. Offensive firepower. Junior Emilio Araiza has developed at quarterback since taking over in Week 2. The first-year starter also has the benefit of a veteran backfield, led by seniors Zach Joseph and Alex Turner.
Add in Bushman and Mike, and Sabino can match up with anybody. The team has scored at least 44 points in each game of its eight-game winning streak, and has averaged more than 60 points over its last four victories.
“It’s not going to be a low-scoring affair, I can assure you that,” Campos said. “For us it’s just a matter of being smart, being patient and taking our chances when they’re there.”
3. A “David” with experience. Tonight will marks the teams’ fourth playoff meeting since 2006, with Saguaro holding the 2-1 edge.
Sabino has been tested like this before.
The team opened the year against Salpointe Catholic, the most talented team in Southern Arizona, and faced No. 3 Goodyear Desert Edge in week three.
While both resulted in 34-plus point losses, Bushman said they helped teach the team to keep playing after big plays instead of shying away. The end results were on display last week, when Sabino held off a Tempe comeback to win 56-49.
“It’s one of those things where people kind of wrote us off after the first couple weeks of the season and no one’s really giving us a chance to have a shot in this game,” Campos said. “We feel like we have a really good chance and we’re looking forward to playing the game.”