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.
One team, though, was notably not among those wins.
Saguaro ended up on the other side of the postseason bracket and fell in a tight game to eventual runner-up Goodyear Desert Edge in the quarterfinals. Queen Creek, Desert Edge and Saguaro were the consensus top three teams last year but the Sabercats lost their grasp on the championship trophy for only the second time in seven years.
All three teams are back among the favorites for this year’s crown, and on Friday Saguaro and Queen Creek will face off for the first time since the Sabercats won a quarterfinal meeting in the 2011 playoffs.
“It’s Saguaro,” Queen Creek coach Travis Schureman said. “They have for a long time been the top dog in D-III. It’s a good measuring stick for both of us.”
The Bulldogs are 5-0 on the year and extended their winning streak to 19 games with a 56-35 victory over Higley on Friday. The team has some impressive wins already this season — Highland and Show Low in addition to Higley — but this game could help clear up the muddled Division III race.
Queen Creek has been without star running back Matt Guida for the past three games because of a leg injury, but backup Weston Barlow has filled in very well (833 yards, 10 touchdowns in those contests) and the team hasn’t missed a beat. Guida is questionable for this matchup, but with or without him, the Bulldogs will stick to their tried and true formula: a consistent running game and a reliance on the defense to slow down the opponent.
“There’s no secret to what they do,” Saguaro coach Jason Mohns said. “They’re going to run the ball out of multiple formations. They stick to it. They’re going to keep coming at you.”
While the Saguaro defense may have a tough time slowing down the run, the Queen Creek defenders similarly have their hands full. Saguaro features Cal-bound quarterback Luke Rubenzer (1,324 yards passing, 20 TD, 3 INT; 379 rush yards, 2 TD), and standout wide receivers Christian Kirk (146 rush yards, 386 receiving yards, 13 total TD) and J.T. Nettleton (16 receptions, 548 yards, 8 TD). While Queen Creek plays a bend-but-don’t-break defense, it’ll be a challenge to stop the big play ability of that trio.
“I don’t know if you ever shut down those guys,” Schureman said.
Queen Creek has been pedestrian passing the ball (43 percent completion percentage and just 41.6 yards per game) and could be in trouble if it falls behind early.
It’s a clash of styles, with Saguaro’s dazzling spread going against Queen Creek’s workmanlike running game, but both have found very good success in the past few years. Regardless of this outcome, both Queen Creek and Saguaro are expected to be deep playoff participants.
The winner, though, can claim an early inside track on the race for the title.
“I think it’s going to be interesting,” Mohns said. “You’re talking about a team that has won 19 consecutive games. We’re going to find out where we are.”