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TUCSON — In the (shortened) week leading up to the Division III state finals, Queen Creek's players and coaches spoke at length about needing to avoid getting in a shootout with Saguaro if the Bulldogs wanted to repeat as champions.
It all sounds exhausting: A championship program with completely new starting lineups, followed by a coaching change, followed by injuries to its top talent.
This Division III semifinal football game was not just about Luke Rubenzer.
Nine weeks after several guys cried in the end zone after a Week 1 loss to Chaparral, the Saguaro football team is not on any Division III team's postseason "wish list."
A 28-point third quarter looked a little more like the Scottsdale Saguaro football team people were used to.
It’s time to find out much more about Higley’s position as the playoffs approach, with this matchup followed by Williams Field next week to end the regular season. The Knights have a legitimate shot in a shootout with RB Ricky Marshall and sophomore QB Tyler Bloom, and this one could be along those lines. The problem is trying to stop Saguaro, something Williams Field and Queen Creek couldn’t do early on, did for stretches in their respective games, but couldn’t in the end. That’s a problem given Higley’s struggles defensively in periods this season, and because QC and Williams Field have pushed around Higley when those schools have played one another. This is easily a better Higley team than any in the past few years, and the Knights now know where they stand with eight games counting after losing their two-game appeal of an ineligible player from early in the season. But neither Williams Field nor QC’s defense could stop Luke Rubenzer, Christian Kirk and J.T. Nettleton.
Prediction: Saguaro 42, Higley 28
-- Mark Heller
When J.T. Nettleton transferred to Saguaro from out of state this spring, he was warned about playing in the shadow of fellow wide receiver Christian Kirk.
No. 4 Queen Creek vs. No. 2 Saguaro (1 p.m. Friday at University of Arizona stadium): What’s changed this around? More for Queen Creek than Saguaro, but both aren’t exactly the same as the early October meeting (a 35-28 victory for Saguaro). On Tuesday, both teams watched film of the first meeting, and both teams said the same thing: They’re much better this time. Queen Creek is healthier for sure, and the Bulldogs are going to try and run the ball straight at Saguaro with Weston Barlow and Matt Guida. Guida’s ability to help be a 1-2 punch with Barlow is key because of his size and speed. Saguaro, however, felt it left a lot of plays on the field that night, and the Sabercats’ offensively have been a wrecking ball through these playoffs, capped by the 77 points scored against an athletic, skilled Goodyear Desert Edge team. Luke Rubenzer has been unstoppable and is setting records, and J.T. Nettleton, Christian Kirk and Brett Adams can beat up on anyone as Saguaro tries to move around Queen Creek and attack the secondary. The Bulldogs’ defense will be the best Saguaro has seen this year, and the Bulldogs’ ability to play “keep-away” with the ball will tell this game’s tale, but “Win it for Tug” is a heavily emotional element here, and Saguaro is going to be hard to contain all day.
Prediction: Saguaro 38, Queen Creek 28
The Queen Creek football team bulldozed nearly everyone in its path on the way to a 14-0 season and the Division III football state title in 2012.
Doc O’Connor, Basha: 109 yards receiving; 80-yard TD pass
Paul Lucas, Mountain Pointe: 143 yards rushing, TD; 96-yard KO return
Luke Quinn, Horizon: 185 yards rushing; 127 yards receiving, 4 TD
Grant Gale, Highland: 12 tackles, sack; 66 yards rushing, TD
Elijah Jeffcoat, Williams Field: Blocked punt for TD
Christian Kirk, Saguaro: 96 yards receiving, 3 TD; rush TD; punt return for TD
Noah Miller, Highland: 3-for-3 PAT, 2 FG, game-winning 21-yarder
Jameson Baker, Dobson: 22 total tackles
Michael Kemmerer, Queen Creek: 32-yard TD rec.; 80-yard INT return for TD
A.J. Greathouse, Hamilton: 30-yard INT return for TD
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro: 190 yards passing, 3 TD; 150 rushing, TD
D.J. Bex, Westwood: 59 yard INT return for TD
Skyline defense: 5 INT, blocked punt
Christian Kirk (right) and his Saguaro teammates celebrate a 56-0 win over McClintock on Sept. 27, 2013.
No. 7 Sabino at No. 2 Saguaro (Div. III): It’s Sabercats vs. Sabercats. In a wild night last week, Tucson Sabino held off a late-charging Tempe team, 56-49 after the Sabercats took a 35-14 lead after one quarter. Sabino ran for 374 yards as a team against Tempe, and (barely) overcame a huge night from Tempe QB Emanuel Gant in that comeback attempt. Aside from the win, none of this bodes well for Sabino against Saguaro, because the closest they’ve seen in terms of athletes was a blowout loss to Goodyear Desert Edge in late September. That 55-21 could be a glimpse of things to come, because Saguaro saw what Tempe did to Sabino in its comeback attempt: spread the field and throw the ball. That’s a pretty good plan when Luke Rubenzer (pictured, left), Christian Kirk (pictured, right) and J.T. Nettleton are on the team. Sabino might hang for awhile because it can score on Saguaro. To Sabino’s credit, they played Salpointe Catholic, Desert Edge and Sahuaro, so they’ve seen elite competition, but Saguaro has too many weapons and can strike too quickly for Sabino to keep up.
Prediction: Saguaro 48, Sabino 24
Perhaps in the only moment that Saguaro offense looked vulnerable was on a punt return.
Cade Thompson, Basha: GW 29-yard FG...
Josh Eckley, Marcos de Niza: 338 yards passing, 2 TD; 103 yards rushing, 2 TD...
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro: 256 yards passing, 6 TD; 151 yards rushing, TD...
Christian Kirk, Saguaro: 232 yards rushing, 2 TD; 68 yards receiving, 2 TD...
Bryce Perkins, Chandler: 249 yards passing, 3 TD; 50 yards rushing, 2 TD...
Clark Brown, Mountain View: 195 total yards, TD...
Hamilton defense: 3 safeties, 16 total yards allowed...
Qualen Cunningham, Hamilton: 4 sacks; single-season school record 17 sacks...
Tempe Prep defense: Shutout, 16 yards allowed in first half vs. Northwest Christian...
Morris Kroma, Hamilton: 65-yard punt return for TD...
Erick Belcher, Campo Verde: 42-yard INT return for TD; 20-yard TD rec....
Ryan Velez, Brophy (pictured): 94-yard KO return for TD...
Isaiah Oliver, Brophy: 42-yard TD rec.; GW pass defended...
Red Mountain defense: 253 yards allowed, 7 points allowed, 3 forced TO...
It took Saguaro just over a minute to take the lead against Bradshaw Mountain on a 50-yard run by receiver Christian Kirk, and it would never look back. Saguaro would take a 41-0 lead into the first few minutes of the second quarter, and would eventually win 69-21.
Jordan Brown, Paradise Valley: 85 yards, TD; 2 INT
Conrad Burnap, Red Mountain: 10 tackles, sack, forced fumble
Kyron Cardwell, Higley: 2 INT, fumble rec.
Nate Woods, Skyline (pictured): 2 INT
Zaneil Chatman, Dobson: 47-yard TD rec.; 16-yard game-winning TD run
Brandon Hatfield, Poston Butte: 125 yards rushing, 2 TD; 162 yards rec., 2 TD
Jarrod James, Mesquite: 39 yards rec.; game-winning 40-yard FG
Sinjin Kirkpatrick, Higley: 99-yard KO return for TD
Chase Lucas, Chandler: 101 rec. yards, 93 rush yards, 2 TD
Alex Madrid, Campo Verde: 72-yard KO return for TD; TD rec.
Wesley Payne, Mountain Pointe: 65-yard kickoff return for TD
Zach Rucas, Basha: 6 tackles, 2 INT
Roman Scholtens, Williams Field: 55-yard punt return for TD
Cade Thompson, Basha: 6-for-6 PAT; 2-for-2 FG
Chip White, Highland: 2 INT
Christian Kirk, Saguaro: 60 rush yards, TD, 35 rec. yards. TD, kick return TD
Ricky Marshall, Higley: 183 rush yards, 3 TD; 82 rec. yards, TD
Clark Brown, Mountain View: 105 rec. yards, 2 TD; 85 punt return TD; rush TD
Qualen Cunningham, Hamilton: Two fumble recoveries
Cade van Raaphorst, Desert Vista: 143 pass yards, 75 rush yards, 5 total TD
Mason Goodell, Valley Christian (pictured): Two interceptions
Blake Ruiz, Williams Field: Field goals of 24, 50 yards
Christian Kirk, Saguaro: 93 rec. yards, 2 TD; 50 rush yards, TD; 70-yard punt return TD
Tevon Sinica-Williams, Westwood: Two interceptions, one returned for TD
Austin Carver, Gilbert: Field goals of 39, 40 yards
Kamron Johnson, Tempe: 95 rec. yards; 74 rush yards, 2 TD; INT on defense.
No. 3 Desert Edge vs. No. 2 Saguaro (at Arcadia H.S.): The Division I games are rightfully getting the attention, but this Div. III matchup could wind up being the best game outside the biggest classification, a high-speed track meet and a blur of touchdowns and big plays. If it’s raining, however, it could wind up being the sloppiest. It’s too early to say a rivalry is developing here since Goodyear Desert Edge’s 38-35 nail-biter of a win over Saguaro in last year’s state quarterfinals was the only meeting between these schools, but for entertainment value and competitiveness it’ll be a dandy. This is shaping up to be a last-team-with-possession-standing affair. Saguaro has Luke Rubenzer, Christian Kirk and J.T. Nettleton leading the way on both sides of the ball. Desert Edge has Anthony Hernandez (a whopping 55 TD passes), freshman Roshaun Johnson and Elijah Marks and Ismael Murphy-Richardson, a pair of kids every bit as dynamic as Saguaro’s with unfinished business after losing to Queen Creek in last year’s Div. III title game. Desert Edge is going to score, that’s a given. But one of the questions surrounding the Scorpions is even though several kids are back from last year’s team, this year’s group didn’t play a difficult regular season schedule (10-0 and yet No. 3 in the final regular season power rankings) and hasn’t seen an elite Div. III team in the postseason until now. Advantage: Saguaro. How much that will matter given the talent and speed of these two teams on the field is questionable, but it’s worth wondering if Desert Edge can withstand a Saguaro flurry or be pushed around and respond as the Sabercats have done a few times this season.
Prediction: Saguaro 42, Desert Edge 35
Christian Kirk, Saguaro (pictured): 70 yards, 2 TD passing; 5 catches, 76 yards
Marcus Maldonado, Marcos de Niza: 65- and 74-yard kickoff return TDs
Brophy special teams: Two field goal blocks, punt block, TD
Saguaro’s Michael Rice tackles Chaparral’s Christian Kirk on Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 in Scottsdale. [Ana Ramirez/ Tribune]
Braxton Barger, Chandler Prep: 258 yards, 3 TD
Jacob Anderson, Williams Field: 212 yards, 4 TD
Antonio Campanella, Seton Catholic: 199 yards, 2 TD
Adam Bennett, Chandler Prep: 170 yards, 3 TD
Greyson Boyll, Scottsdale Prep: 170 yard, TD
Rajhan Meriwether, Basha: 166 yards, 4 TD
Elijah Castro, Chaparral (pictured): 157 yards, TD
Taren Morrison, Desert Ridge: 155 yards, 7 TD
Ryan Velez, Brophy: 145 yards, 2 TD
Zechariah Gatling, Scottsdale Christian: 141 yards, TD
Christian Kirk, Saguaro: 123 yards, 2 TD
Caleb Daniels, Mountain View: 117 yards, 2 TD
David Desilva, Hamilton: 105 yards, 3 TD
Saige Waxter, San Tan Foothills: 100 yards, 2 TD
Chaparral football coach Dave Huffine doesn’t believe the season opener is the ideal time for a rivalry game.
Queen Creek’s defense has been one of the state’s best in the past year and a half, but gets its toughest test of that span against a high-flying Saguaro team. The Bulldogs prefer forcing teams into long drives, but with Luke Rubenzer and Christian Kirk, the Sabercats may have the firepower to strike quickly. On the other side, the Bulldogs will continue to pound the ball using its excellent ground game and force Saguaro to stop them. The Sabercats may struggle to do so, but the offense should be able to pick up the slack. This game might not have a ton of possessions because Queen Creek bleeds the clock so well, but don’t expect too many punts...
Prediction: Saguaro 35, Queen Creek 27
-- Kyle Odegard
Mark Andrews, Desert Mountain (pictured): 201 yards, 3 TD
Christian Kirk, Saguaro: 142 yards, TD
Cules Rose, Pinnacle: 136 yards, 2 TD
TJ Widner, Valley Christian: 131 yards, TD
Nick Colson, Higley: 130 yards, TD
Cole Lenderink, Scottsdale Christian: 120 yards, 2 TD
Cole Forsgren, Williams Field: 118 yards, 3 TD
Brandon Garcia, Seton Catholic: 109 yards, 2 TD
Izzy Simpson, Chaparral: 107 yards
Trevor Wood, Chaparral: 106 yards, TD
Jordan Sims, Campo Verde: 81 yards, 2 TD
One of the state’s biggest rivalries revs up this year to kick off the regular season instead of end it. Both teams are again the favorites in their respective divisions and have high-powered offenses. The Sabercats feature Cal-bound quarterback Luke Rubenzer and star junior wide receiver Christian Kirk. J.T. Nettleton, a transfer from Washington state, could be another big contributor, while Erik Swanson becomes the primary running back. Chaparral’s defense is solid, though, and while the Sabercats are too explove to be shut down, the Firebirds could make it tough on them. Chaparral’s offense is just as potent, as Tyler Whiley, Elijah Castro, Isreal Simpson and Trevor Wood may combine to be the deepest and most talented collection of skill players in Division II. Saguaro’s defense had trouble last year and this is a huge test out of the gate. Chaparral controlled last year’s matchup from the outset and has more talent on both sides of the ball in 2013. Saguaro has little margin for error if it wants to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Chaparral 38, Saguaro 28
-- Kyle Odegard