With each new football season comes at least one big game on the schedule that fans circle on the calendar and anxiously await. And that certainly holds true at the high school level, where rivalries draw standing-room-only crowds.
But there’s a game on tonight’s schedule that fans in a couple of Scottsdale communities have been waiting to see for a really long time.
Four years, to be exact.
It was August 29, 2014, when Saguaro High School last played Chaparral High. After that game, one of the biggest and best high school football rivalries was put on the shelf. Tonight, it will be taken down and dusted off — much to the delight of the fans of both schools.
While those playing in tonight’s game at Saguaro hadn’t yet started high school when the two teams last met, they all understand the importance of the tradition. And so it’s safe to assume that the Chaparral Firebirds will be coming into the game with a chip on their shoulder pads. Their predecessors lost that last game four years ago in a 41-14 Saguaro romp.
That season opener was the beginning of an undefeated (14-0) season for the Sabercats that culminated in a second straight state championship. That streak has since extended to five and this season the Sabercats are expected to be playing for a sixth straight. They have beaten both in-state opponents they’ve met so far and defeated a California team as well. The only blemish on the 2018 record is a 10-point loss to Liberty High School from Nevada in the second game on the schedule.
They’ve rolled over Florence’s Poston Butte HS and Scottsdale neighbor, Desert Mountain HS, by a combined 107-31 score.
Chaparral is 3-0, all against local teams, and hasn’t scored fewer than 35 points in any game so far. However, they had to pull off an overtime win in their opener against perennial power Hamilton High to get to 3-0.
This rivalry has been fueled by some really bad blood that came out of a game back in 2011 when John Sanders, the Saguaro coach at the time, decided to rest most of his starters because he said he wanted to keep them healthy and rested for the start of the playoffs the following week.
At the time, Saguaro was the No. 1-ranked team in Division III and Chaparral was the top-ranked team in D-II. Fans had been waiting all season for the match-up that was televised regionally and expected to provide the fireworks to mark the end of the regular season. When Chaparral ran all over Saguaro’s second team, running up a 65-0 rout, fans from both schools were irate.
That game led to the ouster of Sanders shortly after the season ended. The two teams played again the next year with a new Saguaro head coach, but finished with the same result. Chaparral won the 2012 game, 38-20, and made it three in a row with a 52-27 victory in 2013.
But Chaparral hasn’t been the same program it was during the John Sanders era. The Firebirds have had three different head coaches since Sanders’ departure and four in the last seven years. Tonight, Brent Barnes will get his introduction to the red-hot rivalry.
Barnes was imported from Oklahoma to take over a once-proud Chaparral program that finished the last two seasons 5-6 and 7-5 and hasn’t made it past the second round of the state playoffs the last three years. During three years at Norman High School he led that football program to a 26-9 record.
His mission is to return the Firebirds’ program to the lofty status it enjoyed when Charlie Ragle won three state titles before leaving after the 2011 season to begin a coaching career at the college level. But since he left, no coach has remained more than two years.
So Barnes, the new kid on the block, will see if his squad can put the points on the board with a 4-star quarterback, Jack Miller, who is rated among the top five recruits in the country in the Class of 2020, and one of the top running backs in the state in Darvon Hubbard. Both have committed to play for Ohio State.
And Jason Mohns, the Saguaro head coach who has guided the program to five straight titles, will counter with one of the state’s best defensive units, led by Kelee Ringo, the top prospect in the country at his cornerback position. The entire unit is filled with players already offered full rides from D-I college programs and 11 players are ranked on 247Sports’ list of top players in the state in the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes.
It’s been a long time coming… but this game should be worth the wait.