When it comes to high school football rivalries, the one between Chaparral High School and Saguaro High that kicks off tonight in Scottsdale is as good as it gets.
But it hasn’t been the same in recent years, as Saguaro has been busy building a dynasty while its cross-town rival has been working its way through a series of four head coaches over the past seven years – with less than satisfactory results.
Tonight, however, Chaparral may have one of its best chances to re-ignite what was once one of the biggest and best rivalries in the state.
(*Update: For awhile, Chaparral made it look like it was going to hold up its end of the rivalry renewal, taking an early 17-7 lead. But QB Tyler Beverett and RB Kelee Ringo led the Sabercats through a comeback that resulted in a 38-24 Saguaro victory. Beverett passed for 133 yards and ran for another 111, while Ringo finished the night with 148 yards on 11 carries, putting up two touchdowns.)
The Firebirds are getting comfortable with second-year head coach, Brent Barnes, and are off to a 2-1 start that has enabled them to outscore their first three opponents, 144-79. Their only misstep was in the season opener, a 21-44 loss to perennial 6A power Hamilton High, which is undefeated at 4-0 and ranked No. 9 on the state’s Super 10 rankings.
Saguaro is No. 3 on that list and coming into tonight’s contest 3-1, with its only loss to a strong Cathedral Catholic team from California. Their scoring advantage through four games is 177-33. And did we mention…they have won six consecutive state championships?
The rivalry was the hottest ticket in town when the two Scottsdale powers were at their peak a decade ago. Fuel was thrown on the fire back in 2011 when John Sanders, the Saguaro head coach at the time, decided to rest most of his starters for that year’s regular-schedule final game with Chaparral. He said he wanted to keep his players healthy and rested for the start of the playoffs the following week.
At the time, Saguaro was the top-ranked team in Division III and Chaparral was No. 1 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 depleted team in a 65-0 blowout, fans from both schools were irate.
It cost Sanders his job, fired shortly after the season ended. The two teams played again the next year with a new Saguaro head coach, but the results were similar as the Firebirds won the 2012 game and then made it three in a row.
Charlie Ragle, the coach who led Chaparral to three state titles, left after the 2011 season and the rivalry was put on the shelf following the 2014 season. That was the year Saguaro beat Chaparral, 41-14, and the rivalry wasn’t renewed until last year when Barnes took over the reigns of a program that had finished 5-6 and 7-5 the previous two seasons. His first season got off to a disappointing start, finishing 5-6 and losing the final four games.
This season, his Firebirds are putting up some solid numbers offensively, similar to what Saguaro is doing. Their 144 points in the first three games includes a 48-0 shutout of Desert Mountain HS and a 40-point domination of La Jolla Community HS.
Despite a tough struggle through the 21018 season, the Firebirds were able to stay with Saguaro last year, scoring 37 points on the Sabercats to lose by just eight points.
But that’s the fun part of rivalries like this. It’s impossible to predict what will happen, regardless of how much one team is favored over the other.
An upset by Chaparral would be a signature win for Barnes. And would give new life to an old rivalry that has been dormant way too long.