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.
But even with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin on hand Friday night to watch Kirk, arguably the top junior prospect in the state, it was Nettleton who stole the show.
The standout senior had eight catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns to lead No. 3 Saguaro to a 35-28 victory over No. 2 Queen Creek in a Division III showdown at Saguaro. Nettleton also intercepted a pass on defense, playing a crucial role in ending the defending champion Bulldogs’ 19-game winning streak.
“Christian and I are two huge assets to this team,” Nettleton said. “If they’re shutting down one of us, we’ll go to the other. It doesn’t matter which one it is. We both can get the job done.”
The game was tied at 14 midway through the second quarter until the Sabercats (4-1) scored two touchdowns in less than a minute and a half to take a 28-14 lead into intermission. Queen Creek (4-1) twice pulled within one score in the second half, but lacked the requisite firepower to complete the comeback.
The Bulldogs scored on a Semone Brown 16-yard touchdown run with 2:10 remaining to cut the deficit to seven and recovered the onside kick, but the ball touched a Bulldogs player before going 10 yards, which gave Saguaro possession and the game.
Queen Creek star running back Matt Guida missed his fourth consecutive game with a quadriceps injury while backup Weston Barlow missed most of the final three quarters with a possible concussion.
Barlow had 16 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown before leaving the contest, but coach Travis Schureman discounted the factor the injuries played in the loss.
“We expect to win no matter who is on the field,” Schureman said. “We just didn’t execute, and I made some bad choices tonight. I put us in some holes.”
Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer was impressive, completing 20-of-25 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 54 yards and another score. Kirk was watched closely by the Queen Creek defense all night and was limited to four catches for 43 yards.
However, the attention he brought paved the way for Nettleton’s big night. His second score was the most impressive, a 22-yard reception in which he somehow kept his feet in bounds in the back of the end zone.
"I didn't think about (feet positioning) for a second," Nettleton said. "To be honest, I'm not thinking about anything when the ball is in the air. It just happens."
Saguaro’s fans wore green in honor of equipment manager Mike "Tug" Garcia, who died unexpectedly on Monday morning at the age of 44. Several players were noticeably emotional before the game.
Coach Jason Mohns said it was important for the team to play well for Garcia.
“That’s what I told our boys,” Mohns said. “Tug wouldn’t want us to come out and feel sorry for ourselves and be sad. He’d want us to come out here and beat a good football team on our home field and end their 19-game winning streak... He’s probably got a big smile on his face right now because this is what he loved doing on Friday night.”
Saguaro 35, Queen Creek 28
QC: 7 7 7 7 -- 28
Sag: 7 21 0 7 -- 35
First downs: QC 17; Sag 21
Rushes-Yards: QC 42-187; Sag 29-132
Comp-Att-Yards-TD-INT: QC 12-20-110-0-2; Sag 20-25-327-3-0
Fumbles-Lost: QC 0-0; Sag 0-0
Penalties-Yards: QC 4-22; Sag 13-105
QC - Barlow 4 run, Paulsen kick
Sag - Nettleton 20 pass from Rubenzer, Tjaarda kick
Sag - Rubenzer 2 run, Tjaarda kick
QC - Lemley 9 run, Paulsen kick
Sag - Lane 2 run, Tjaarda kick
Sag - Koutsalas 61 pass from Rubenzer, Tjaarda kick
QC - Dobbs 5 run, Paulsen kick
Sag - Nettleton 22 pass from Rubenzer, Tjaarda kick
QC - Brown 16 run, Paulsen kick