Still feeling the full sting of falling in the final two seconds of Saturday’s 4A-I state championship game, Canyon del Oro coach Pat Nugent was asked during post-game interviews to look nine months into the future - to next year’s kickoff.
And if there was anything that could ease his pain, it was the comfort of knowing that everyone who found their way into the end zone for the Dorados during the title game will return next fall to try and erase these memories.
“The reality is that a freshman, a sophomore and a junior scored all of our touchdowns today,” said Nugent. "We were just seconds away from doing something really special.”
Freshman star running back Ka’Deem Carey, a highlight reel per touch, was the first to burn the Sabercats.
With 6:24 to play in the third quarter, Carey fielded a kickoff near his 9-yard line, took a flurry of strides straight ahead, and then cut directly left towards the far sideline. The 15-year-old blazed past the initial line of would-be tacklers and by the time he reached midfield, there was no one left in his path.
“I knew I could get us back in it with a big return,” said Carey. “I wanted to give us that spark we needed.”
Ninety-one yards later the Dorados were finally on the scoreboard.
“Everyone keeps wanting to say that (Carey) is just a freshman,” Saguaro coach John Sanders said. “But he is just a real fast freshman. And there is no substitute for speed.”
That score brought Canyon del Oro back within three points of the defending champions at 10-7, breathing a dose of life into a team that was showing the body language of the already-defeated.
“No one wants to kick to (Carey),” said Nugent. “And after today, I don’t know that he’ll ever get another kickoff kicked to him again. He’s that explosive.”
Sophomore wide receiver/safety Josh Robbins was the next to make a serious impact on high school football’s biggest stage.
Trailing 20-7, with just over five minutes left in the game, CDO quarterback Daniel Nicholas lofted a pass in Robbins’ direction, near the right corner of the end zone. Robbins left his feet to grab the ball at its peak, and was hit while in air, but still managed to keep his right foot in bounds for the 15-yard scoring strike.
“It was a perfect pass,” Robbins said. “The only thing I had to do was come down with it.”
At the 3:09 mark of the fourth quarter, junior running back Griffin Ronstadt gave the Dorados their only lead of the game.
Ronstadt secured a handoff from Nicholas before making a precise cut in front of a lunging Sabercats defender on his way to the end zone, and a 21-20 advantage.
In the end, however, Saguaro negated the efforts of the Dorados youngsters in dramatic fashion, booting a field goal with two seconds on the clock.
“It hurts right now,” said Robbins, fighting tears. “But we will be back.”