Chaparral football coach Dave Huffine doesn’t believe the season opener is the ideal time for a rivalry game.
It’s too early. There’s not enough time for build-up.
“It doesn’t have to be Week 10, but maybe something in October,” he said.
Don’t tell that to the overhyped fans already counting down the minutes until Friday night.
The Firebirds will match up with Saguaro to kick off the season, and while the showdown is earlier than usual, there’s no shortage of the usual excitement.
Even though both teams lost in the state quarterfinals a season ago, they have restocked and have the look of state championship contenders.
Chaparral is ranked No. 1 in Division II because of its various weapons on offense and tough defense. The Sabercats are ranked No. 1 in Division III behind Cal-bound quarterback Luke Rubenzer and star junior wide receiver Christian Kirk.
The Firebirds jumped out to a 35-7 halftime lead in last year’s contest before cruising to the win, and should be better this season. Saguaro coach Jason Mohns believes his team is improved as well, but knows it is the underdog.
“Rightfully so,” he said. “Everybody’s going to pick Chaparral to beat us. I think they’re in the top three-to-four teams in the state. They’ve got athletes all over the field and a great coaching staff. They’re a heck of a football team.”
Saguaro’s offense had trouble last year, and it was Firebirds linebacker Jake Roh who inflicted the most damage. He was constantly in the backfield, pressuring Rubenzer and making great reads against the Sabercats’ tough spread option attack. Roh has graduated, so it remains to be seen how much of an effect his loss will have on the contest.
“We’re not sad he’s not there,” Mohns said. “He was a stud.”
Huffine believes he has the defenders to fill in, led by a strong linebacker corps, including transfer addition Joe Nauert from Brophy. Tyler Whiley is an excellent receiver and also a standout defensive back, while Marshall Forest and Trevor Wood excel on the defensive line.
The offense could be even better, with Whiley, Wood, Israel Simpson and Elijah Castro among the best quartet of skill players in the state. Chaparral was dealt a blow when running back Emerson Carrethers was likely lost for the season with a torn ACL last week, but one strength of the team’s offense is its depth.
Many eyes will be on quarterback Sean Paul Brophy, who got his feet wet last year as a sophomore but eventually lost his job to Brad Schencker. Brophy is back as the unquestioned starter, and the plethora of stars surrounding him should make it easier.
“Last year you put him in a spot where it was pretty overwhelming at times,” Huffine said. “He won’t be facing anything more difficult. He went through the entire offseason as the man. He’s only gotten better.”
Saguaro’s key addition is Washington state move-in J.T. Nettleton. He had nearly 1,000 yards receiving last season and is just as good at defensive back.
“Everybody keeps telling me to stop building him up so he can go under the radar, but he’s the real deal,” Mohns said.
Mohns requested the game be moved up because he felt like last year’s loss affected his team heading into the playoffs. This way, the rivalry gets it’s due, but then both teams can move forward and concentrate on the season.
“It’s like if you have to give a speech in one of your classes,” Mohns said. “You pray that you’re last, but then if you are, you agonize about it. Someone else gives a speech before you and then you think yours isn’t any good. Let’s just see where we’re at, then we can go forward with our life after that. If we beat them, that’ll be great. If they get us, we’ll figure out where we need to get better and have nine weeks (to prepare for the playoffs.)”