QUEEN CREEK — Sabino’s quest for a return trip to the state championship game came up 41 seconds and two weeks short.
Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin scored from the 1-yard line with 41.7 seconds left in Friday’s Class 3A state quarterfinal game to eliminate the fifth-seeded Sabercats 35-31.
“They got us. They played a great game. They got a great scheme over there,” Sabino coach Ryan McBrayer said. “They got us in the end.”
Sabino (9-3) led 31-21 lead after Alex Bell hit Luke Moran on a 23-yard touchdown slant pass with 1:52 left in the third quarter. But Franklin battled back with a quick drive capped by halfback touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-28.
Then disaster struck.
Needing a long drive or at least a way to take some time off the clock, workhorse runner Isaiah Smotherman hurt his ankle and did not return.
Sabino went three-and-out following the injury. The Sabercats stopped the Chargers on a fourth-and-5 at midfield with 6:02 left. But Sabino couldn’t move the ball and Bell was sacked on fourth-and-1 and the Chargers’ 45.
Benjamin Franklin hit a quick pass and then grinded out a 10-play drive capped by the 1-yard run by Chandler Miles.
Sabino couldn’t move past the 40 and Bell’s short pass on the final play went incomplete to end it.
Sabino had to overcome Benjamin Franklin‘s unconventional offense. The Chargers run a throwback double-wing offense with no wideouts. Their top two backs gained nearly 3,000 yards on the ground the season. But top back Zach Jeffries went out in the first half with a knee injury, hurting the Benjamin Franklin offense as Sabino rallied.
The Sabercats came back from a 21–0 deficit in the first half. They scored three second-quarter touchdowns to tie it at 21 at the break.
Sabino was trying to get back to the state championship game, where they lost in 2016. This is the fourth Straight trip for the SaberCats to the postseason.
Sabino only losses this season are to the top two seeds in the 3A bracket.