Chaparral dominates long-awaited re-match with Saguaro

Last year, Saguaro High School played just a few of its starters in the big football rivalry game with Chaparral High – and lost, 65-0.

Last night, Saguaro fielded every one of its starters in the re-match.  The result, however, was pretty much the same, as Chaparral beat the Sabercats, 38-20.

But the way the game was played was entirely different from last year.  And that’s the important thing.

This year’s meeting held a special place on the schedule.  Not because it’s one of the biggest rivalry games between two of the best teams in the state, nor because it’s the last game of the regular season.  Instead, it signaled the turning of a nasty page in the history of the rivalry between the two Scottsdale power football programs.

The incident last year resulted in a firestorm of media attention, and widespread criticism of the program (including on this site).

In some ways, this year’s re-match could have been considered a revenge game.  But that motive has been watered down somewhat because both head coaches from last year’s game are gone – although they have been replaced by their assistant coaches.

John Sanders, the Saguaro head coach who had won four state titles in his five years as head coach, decided to rest most of his starters in last year’s game because he said he wanted to keep the them healthy and rested for the opening of the state play-offs.

He knew what the result would be.  But maybe he didn’t expect the avalanche of criticism that followed.

This wasn’t just any game, mind you.  Saguaro was ranked No. 1 in Division III and Chaparral was the top-ranked team in Division II.  The stands were packed with parents and fans ready for a game that had built with anticipation all season long; the two teams hadn’t met in three years.  And the seniors were eager to play in a game that was expected to be perhaps the most memorable of their prep careers.

What the Chaparral squad got instead was a practice against a team playing with substitutes.  It was a bitter end to the regular season and set things up for a re-match this year.

But Sanders was fired following his participation in the Semper Fidelis Bowl at season’s end.  And the Chaparral head coach, Charlie Ragle, accepted a job after last season working in the athletic department at the University of Arizona.  Sanders was hired by Arizona State as its Coordinator of Football Operations.

Both schools moved their offensive coordinators into the head coach’s seat, with Jason Mohns taking over at Saguaro and Dave Huffine moving up at Chaparral.

Mohns took a different approach this year, trying to help calm the outrage from the last meeting with the Firebirds, put last year in the rear-view mirror, and stoke the rivalry fires once again.

But the fireworks fizzled when Chaparral (7-3) piled up 35 unanswered points in the first half to put the Sabercats (7-3) in a hole too deep for escape.  Saguaro was down 35-7 at halftime, and didn’t score again until the final quarter.  A much-heralded offense that had accumulated 4,926 yards coming into the contest managed just 86 in a first half that was dominated by the Chaparral defense, eventually finishing with 173 yards.

Senior quarterback Brad Schencker accounted for three Chaparral touchdowns, throwing for 162 yards and a score, and then adding two more TDs rushing on an 11-yard run and a quarterback sneak.

Saguaro’s junior QB Luke Rubenzer was contained by the Firebird defense throughout the first half, but finished the game with 125 yards passing and another 77 rushing.

Chaparral, which started the season with three losses in its first four games – due in large part to a rash of injuries, has come on strong to finish with six straight wins and was ranked No. 8 in the Division II power rankings going into last night’s game.

The win will likely give them a home game in the first round of the playoffs – and a good start in their quest for a fourth straight state title.

Saguaro was also ranked No. 8 in the power rankings, in Division III.  The loss may mean starting playoffs with a road game for the Sabercats, as they prepare to defend their state title.

Their records may not be as gaudy this year, but no one is counting either team out in the playoffs.