When you only have four region games, they all are big. The region winner gets an automatic pass to the playoffs, meaning a four-game winning streak can atone for nonregion miscues.
When the two teams facing off in a 4A Division I Desert Sky Region game have a combined one loss, however, the meeting is huge.
That is the setting tonight when third-ranked Scottsdale Saguaro heads down Hayden Road to where it becomes McClintock Road and takes on Tempe McClintock.
Saguaro has rolled its opponents with a stifling defense and confusing offense.
The Sabercats’ defense, led by lineman John Sobczuk, is aggressive and forces opponents to take chances. It has been hurt by the loss of linebacker Alex Ruben, who suffered knee damage but may return before the end of the season.
Offensively, the Sabercats also have had to overcome a loss. Quarterback T.J. Rauch has a broken foot and has been replaced by Tim Ruben, Alex’s brother. Tim Ruben has stepped in and run coach Mike Reardon’s spread offense.
McClintock coach Steve Campbell is the first to point out his team hasn’t played as tough a schedule as Saguaro.
“We know they are a good football team,” Campbell said. “They’re a solid team all around. They haven’t given up many points at all. They don’t have a weakness we can attack.”
Reardon brushes aside the flattery.
“I was telling my coaches every week I’m worrying for one reason or another,” Reardon said. “This week, we’ve got a different challenge because we’re playing a team that has a winning record. They have great athletes across the board. This team has as good of athletes we’ve played against this year.”
While the Sabercats are unbeaten, they have been slow starters. Reardon said that won’t work tonight.
“They better not,” Reardon said, “especially against a team like this. If we approach the game in the manner we have, you can only dance with the devil so many times.”
Campbell said the Chargers are elated to be going into the game 5-1.
“If you (asked) anybody what is McClintock going into region, nobody would have said 5-1,” Campbell said. “A victory this week would be huge. We’re solid. We know we’re a good football team. At what level are we at? I would say Saguaro is one of top four teams in 4A. We will find out.”
Saguaro at McClintock
Time: 7 p.m. today
Address: 1830 E. Del Rio Drive, Tempe
Records: Saguaro 6-0, 1-0; McClintock 5-1, 0-0
Last year’s meeting: Saguaro 52, McClintock 12