Last week’s football match-up with Chaparral High School was supposed to be the litmus test to see if Saguaro High is prepared take on the postseason challenge of competing for a state title in the Open Division brackets.
The answer, following the 27-26 Chaparral victory, is… maybe.
Saguaro is the team that set a state record with six straight state titles competing in the 5A conference. But that string was ended in 2019 when the Sabercats were one of just eight teams to be invited to play in the inaugural Open Division, which pits teams from the top three conferences against one another for a state championship.
They lost that year in the title game against Hamilton High. And last year they were again in the Open Division competition, the No. 3 seed, when a COVID outbreak in the program ended their season before the playoffs got started.
Saguaro’s head coach Jason Mohns feels that this year’s squad has all the tools necessary to return to the Open Division title game. With the depth of talent at every position this year, the Sabercats were hoping to earn a spot in the national rankings. D-I prospects have been transferring in from local schools, as well as several out-of-state, to load up the line-up with quality players.
Last week’s contest, a huge annual rivalry game between Saguaro (2-1) and Chaparral (3-1), the other perennial football power in Scottsdale, was the first opportunity the Sabercats had to test themselves against a top-tier opponent. Saguaro won its first game on the schedule, 63-0, against McClintock High, and then led all the way in the second game, against American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek, on the way to a 20-14 victory to begin the season undefeated.
But the Chaparral win threw into question the legitimacy of Saguaro’s championship aspirations. The Firebirds used a 20-0 run in the second half to pull off a come-from-behind 27-26 victory over a team they’ve been unable to beat over the last eight seasons.
Saguaro took a 20-7 lead into the locker room at the half, but Chaparral found its offensive rhythm once the second half began. But it was a Saguaro fumble on the three-yard line, resulting in a touchback, that appeared to be the spark that ignited the Firebird offense.
A long Chaparral drive in the third quarter, capped off by a Jamarei Ashby-phan touchdown run started the scoring. That was followed by a 23-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Brayten Silborto senior wide receiver Gavin Higley just seven seconds into the fourth quarter to make the score 21-20 for the Firebirds’ first lead of the game.
Grady Hickey wrapped up the Chaparral scoring in dramatic fashion, using an 89-yard TD run to make the lead 27-20. The senior wide receiver finished the game with four catches for 68 yards and another 100 yards rushing.
Saguaro came back in the final two minutes of the game as wide receiver Jack Dickerson put one last score on the board. Coach Jason Mohns decided to go for the win, but the two-point conversion attempt failed when senior quarterback Ridge Docekal was stopped at the one-yard line.
Chaparral is a 6A program, a division above 5A Saguaro. But the Sabercats will be faced with good 6A teams if they end the season playing in the Open Division playoffs, so this is a good early test.
However, Saguaro is expecting to have the availability of several high-profile transfers for the second half of the season. And that could make the Sabercats a much more difficult team to deal with as the playoffs approach.
Maybe Chaparral caught its old nemesis at the right time.
Or maybe the Firebirds are just that good.