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GLENDALE – Norris Vaughan was engulfed into the sea of black.
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.
Taren Morrison, Desert Ridge: 358 yards, 5 TD...
Weston Barlow, Queen Creek: 301 yards, 5 TD...
Jacob Anderson, Williams Field: 204 yards, TD...
Paul Perry, Mesquite (pictured): 159 yards, TD rec....
Bryce Perkins, Chandler: 143 yards, 4 TD...
Tyrell Smith, Hamilton: 135 yards, 3 TD...
Wesley Payne, Mountain Pointe: 133 yards...
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro: 133 yards, 2 TD...
Chase Lucas, Chandler: 98 yards...
Most teams would savor a victory in the state quarterfinals, but Scottsdale Saguaro was already thinking ahead to next week immediately after a 48-20 home win over Tucson Sabino in the Division III playoffs Friday night.
In what was some pretty good foreshadowing, Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer’s fourth varsity pass completion of his high school career was a touchdown. It was mop-up duty in the 2010 playoff quarterfinals against Peoria Bradshaw Mountain.
Survive and advance is a popular mantra adopted this time of year — and for good reason.
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.
Taren Morrison, Desert Ridge: 315 yards rushing, 2 TD; 99-yard KO return for TD
Austin Carver, Gilbert: 3 FG (20, 44, 52)
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro: 357 yards passing, 3 TD, 2 2-pt. conversions; 151 yards rushing, 3 TD
Ricky Wilson, San Tan Foothills: 161 yards rushing, 2 TD; 14 tackles, 4 TFL, sack, INT
Bryce Perkins, Chandler: 180 yards passing, 3 TD; 91 yards rushing, TD
Chandler defense (pictured): 5 sacks, 2 INT
Morris Kroma, Hamilton: 77-yard punt return for TD
Tyler Townsley, Pinnacle: 78-yard KO return for TD
Grant Thompson, Highland: 9 tackles, 4 TFT, sack, 3 FF, fumble recovery
Juan Giraldo, Mesquite: 80-yard KO return for TD
Elijah Castro, Chaparral: 45 yards rushing, TD; 94 yards receiving, 2 TD
John Clark, Mountain View (pictured): 423 yards, 5 TD
Kyle Allen, Desert Mountain: 355 yards, 5 TD, rush TD
Daniel Bridge-Gadd, Paradise Valley: 354 yard, 3 TD
Brian Lewerke, Pinnacle: 304 yards, 4 TD
Dalton Sneed, Horizon: 267 yards, 2 TD, rush TD
Bryce Perkins, Chandler: 247 yards, TD, 2 rush TD
Kyle Johnson, Seton Catholic: 239 yards, 5 TD
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro: 230 yards, 6 TD
Jeddediah Fagg, Williams Field: 227 yards, 3 TD
Antonio Hinojosa, Mountain Pointe: 199 yards, 4 TD
Zach Werlinger, Basha: 185 yards, 3 TD
Jack Johnson, Scottsdale Christian: 178 yards, 4 TD
Sam Sasso, Hamilton: 111 yards, 4 TD
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
A lot will happen in the middle of a game that coaches will not like. But there are two things teams can do to help their coach forget all that stuff:
Bailey Anderson, Gilbert Christian: 551 yards, 10 TD...
Tyler Bloom, Higley: 315 yards, 5 TD...
Zach Werlinger, Basha (pictured): 304 yards, 2 TD, 2 rush TD...
John Clark, Mountain View: 294 yards, TD...
Nick Smith, Scottsdale Prep: 264 yards, 5 TD...
Josh Eckley, Marcos de Niza: 263 yards, 5 TD...
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro: 261 yards, 2 TD...
Kyle Johnson, Seton Catholic: 228 yards, 3 TD...
Payton Haslam, Mesquite: 214 yards, 2 TD...
Caleb Murray-Thomas, Red Mountain: 211 yards, 2 TD...
Daniel Bridge-Gadd, Paradise Valley: 191 yards, 4 TD...
Blake Young, Highland: 185 yards, TD...
Kyle Allen, Desert Mountain: 183 yards, 3 TD
Brandon Haagsma, Valley Christian: 126 yards, 4 TD...
Dalton Sneed, Horizon (pictured): 363 yards, 7 TD
Kyle Allen, Desert Mountain: 350 yards, 2 TD
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro: 327 yards, 3 TD, TD run
John Clark, Mountain View: 293 yards, 4 TD
Emanuel Gant, Tempe: 272 yards, 5 TD
Tyler Bloom, Higley: 270 yards, 4 TD
Kyle Johnson, Seton Catholic: 249 yards, 5 TD, 2 TD runs
Jeddediah Fagg, Williams Field: 210 yards, 3 TD
Peter Campbell, Arcadia: 205 yards, 2 TD
Zach Werlinger, Basha: 200 yards, 2 TD, TD run
Daniel Bridge-Gadd, Paradise Valley: 198 yards, 3 TD
Luke Pineda, Campo Verde: 160 yards, 2 TD, TD run
Chandler Fox, Chaparral: 149 yards, 3 TD
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.
Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer is brought down by a Queen Creek defender, Friday, October 4, 2013 in Saguaro. [Jerry Burch/ Special to Tribune]
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro (pictured): 252 yards passing, 3 TD; 85 yards rushing; INT
Josh Eckley, Marcos de Niza: 296 yards passing, 3 TD; 91 yards rushing, TD
Kyle Stanfier, San Tan Foothills: 3 INT
Matt Munsil, Scottsdale Prep: 18 tackles
Greg Frasco, Desert Mountain: 16 tackles
Zechariah Gatling, Scottsdale Christian: 14 tackles
Ricky Wilson, San Tan Foothills: 204 yards rushing, 2 TD; 12 tackles
Will Lane, Scottsdale Christian: 3 sacks
Conrad Burnap, Red Mountain: 55-yard INT return for TD
Saguaro's Luke Rubenzer tries to evade Queen Creek defenders in 1st half action, Friday, October 4, 2013 at Saguaro. [Jerry Burch/ Special to Tribune]
The Sabercats made a statement with a 35-28 victory over defending Division III champion Queen Creek last week. Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer was very good, and wide receiver J.T. Nettleson had 141 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Williams Field has allowed the second-fewest points (61) in Division III this year but will be hard-pressed to slow down Saguaro. The Black Hawks have gotten a big boost with the return of wide receiver Cole Forsgren, who has 334 yards receiving and six touchdown receptions in two games since returning from a hand injury. The Sabercats’ defense can be suspect, and Williams Field will need to score points to keep up. The Black Hawks should be competitive but Saguaro may have too much firepower when all is said and done...
Prediction: Saguaro 38, Williams Field 28
-- Kyle Odegard
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
Luke Rubenzer, Saguaro: 332 yards, 5 TD...
Sean Paul Brophy, Chaparral: 263 yards, TD...
Brian Woodward, Brophy: 244 yards, 2 TD...
Sam Sasso, Hamilton (pictured): 211 yards, 2 TD...
Bryce Perkins, Chandler: 203 yards, 2 TD...
Luke Pineda, Campo Verde: 176 yards, 2 TD...
Antonio Hinojosa, Mountain Pointe: 161 yards, 4 TD...
Brian Lewerke, Pinnacle: 159 yards, 2 TD...
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