Even a seven-point deficit can feel daunting when trying to slow Sahuaro’s potent rushing attack on its home turf.
Sabino felt anxious to make something happen, and it cost the Sabercats, not just once but twice, near the end of the first half of a 47-13 Sahuaro victory Friday night.
Needing just one yard to keep the drive alive in their own territory the Sabercats jumped for a five-yard penalty, and forced to go to the air, quarterback A.J. Skaggs tried to squeeze a pass between two defenders. It sailed high and Sahuaro safety Calen McFarland, whose family once donned Sabino purple and gold, picked it off and raced 37 yards to the end zone.
“That’s a kid that could have been over there but came here instead,” Sahuaro coach Scott McKee said. “And he’s a really special kid. Great academic kid, and you’ll see him playing at Ivy League school hopefully down the road, but yeah, that interception broke that thing open.”
If seven points wasn’t enough to rattle the visitors, the 21-7 deficit did the trick. Facing fourth-and-2 with just 1:35 left before the break, Sabino elected to go for it on its own 40. This despite having the wind at its back, and Sahuaro having completed just one pass for zero yards. Skaggs’s pass hit the turf, and just four plays later, Sahuaro was celebrating in the end zone, up 27-7, seemingly assured of its third win.
“We saw an opening, and we missed it,” Sabino coach Ryan McBrayer said. “We took a little gamble to try to get our defense a break. Unfortunately, we missed, and that’s how it goes sometimes.”
It’s no mystery why McBrayer wanted to get his defense a rest.
By halftime, Sahuaro had topped 170 rushing yards on just 10 carries. By the end of the game, it had 34 carries for a whopping 378 yards, split mostly among the three running backs Izaiah Davis, 16 for 125 yards and two touchdowns, Jamir Gasaway, six for 112 yards and a score, and Trevion Watkins, eight for 77 yards with two touchdowns.
The trio kept the Sabercats on their heels, and by the time the second half started, they were having their way, bruising through countless missed tackles.
When the Sabercats had the ball, they couldn’t maintain any consistency.
Running back Andrew Owen had a handful of promising runs, but couldn’t break free for any big ones, finishing with 47 yards on 18 carries. Skaggs was chased all over the field, still managing to do some damage through the air as he completed two touchdown passes to Diego Armijo. But there were enough incompletions and bottled up runs to derail any progress.
In the end, Sabino only punted twice, same as Sahuaro, but the turnovers and that key missed fourth down were too much to overcome. McFarland, who also recovered a fumble, knew when he pulled in the interception, he had just changed the game.
“It gave me chills after the game,” the senior said. “I went to the sideline, and the boys were hyping me up. We worked so hard for this moment.”
Sahuaro (3-0) hosts Tempe Marcos de Niza next week while Sabino (1-1) returns home to face Catalina Foothills.