California is close enough that Arizona high school football programs are increasingly scheduling early-season games with teams from the Golden State. It provides the local schools with some good competition from teams that often agree to travel to Arizona to play their games, providing an early test for those Arizona top teams that are good enough to take on the challenge.
But this season, those California teams are also putting a dent in otherwise successful season openings.
Two weeks ago, Higley High School opened its 2019 season with a home contest against Bishop Alemany High School from Mission Hills. It turned out to be a bad idea as the Higley fans had to sit through a 55-16 thumping by the California power.
It took the visiting Warriors just two minutes to get on the score board, while Higley struggled to find the end zone and didn’t score until late into the fourth quarter. Alemany rolled up 298 total yards of offense.
And this week, the California schools escalated the assault by putting away a couple of teams with even higher profiles – most notably Saguaro High School, the No. 1 team on the Super 10 list of Arizona’s top-ranked schools across all conferences. Also added to the list of damaged reputations was Desert Vista High School, which went into its game with Notre Dame High School from Sherman Oaks as the No. 7 team on the Super 10.
Desert Vista, which had won its opener against a Palm Springs team, couldn’t make it two in a row. Down by just a single point at the half, 21-20, the Thunder went scoreless in the third quarter. Despite a 15-point performance in the final frame, a 33-yard Notre Dame field goal as time expired ended their hopes to start the season 2-0.
But Arizona’s highest hopes were tied to Saguaro, which was playing in the 2019 Honor Bowl in San Diego. The talent-rich Scottsdale school, which has won six straight state championships, went into the game against Cathedral Catholic ranked No. 10 in USA Today’s national prep standings.
Despite boasting a roster of 19 players with Division I scholarship offers in their pockets and a wealth of senior leadership, the Sabercats managed just a single touchdown against Cathedral, one of the best teams in the San Diego area. Their only score through the first three quarters, in fact, was a 32-yard field goal by Parker Lewis in the second period.
The lone touchdown came shortly after the fourth quarter opened, a one-yard run by quarterback Tyler Beverett who was able to atone somewhat for tossing a couple of interceptions, one of which led to a Cathedral TD as the second half opened to give the Dons a 12-10 lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Cathedral, which was ranked No. 38 nationally by MaxPreps, was expected to give Saguaro a good challenge. But no one could have predicted such a low-scoring contest. Credit a couple of the country’s better high school defenses.
Saguaro’s defense limited Cathedral’s junior quarterback, DJ Ralph, to just two completions on the night, for 14 yards. But the difference-maker was senior running back Zavien Watson who ran for 160 yards on 27 carries and scored all three of the Dons’ touchdowns.
The Sabercats opened the schedule with a 63-0 rout of Florence’s Poston Butte High School, but the out-of-state competition is a different animal. And this Saturday, they will find out whether playing in Nevada will yield better results. They take on Faith Lutheran in the Polynesian Bowl at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.
Another loss would further diminish their chances of being among the eight teams selected at season’s end to play in the new Open Division playoff tournament.
It would likely mean the reigning state champs would have to run the table the rest of the way to assure a spot in the Open playoff.
But, for Saguaro, that wouldn’t be a hill too high to climb.