Saguaro High running back Israel Benjamin

Saguaro High running back Israel Benjamin, who rushed for 155 yards, turns the corner for another big gain in the 4A state championship game. The Sabercats rolled to their sixth straight state title, blowing out top-seeded Salpointe Catholic, 42-16.

TUCSON -- Second-seeded Saguaro made it clear early in the second half that it wouldn’t be walking out of Arizona Stadium without the gold football in its hands.

With its balanced offense and strong defense, the second-seeded Sabercats pummeled top-seeded Salpointe Catholic, 42-16, Nov. 30 to win the 2018 4A high school state championship, Saguaro's sixth straight.

“It’s special,” Sabercats coach Jason Mohns said. “It’s crazy to be able to sustain this run, and we beat some really good teams with really good coaches. It’s a great feeling.”

Saguaro got on the board midway through the first quarter with a 10-yard run from running back Israel Benjamin. Although it was the junior’s only score of the game he continued to be a menace to Salpointe Catholic with his 128 rushing yards.

The Lancers, who feature Bijan Robinson, among the top running backs in the state, quickly answered when Robinson broke through Saguaro’s stingy defense for a 36-yard touchdown run. The junior rushed for 155 yards, but was held out of the end zone the rest of the night.

“We just had to limit the big plays,” Mohns said. “We knew Bijan was going to rip off some runs and they were going to make some plays. They probably put up some good numbers stat-wise but they didn’t put up a lot of points, which was key.”

After a pair of scores from Saguaro – which included a 90-yard kick return from senior speedster Marqui Johnson –the Sabercats led 21-13 at the half.

While Saguaro's offense struggled, so did Salpointe's.

The Lancers were unable to capitalize on good field position numerous times in the first half, missing two field goals that could have pulled them to within two points.

After the break, though, Saguaro, found a rhythm and quickly took command. 

“We just came out and played Saguaro football,” said Sabercats quarterback Tyler Beverett. “We just got with our coaches and figured out what we were doing wrong and went out and fixed it." 

Just over a minute into the third quarter, Beverett found receiver Will Shaffer streaking down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown pass play, the junior’s first of two scores. The touchdown shifted momentum and began a 21-3 run by Saguaro that broke it open. 

Beverett, who watched Saguaro win its fifth straight title at Arizona Stadium from the sideline as the backup last season, settled his nerves and began to maneuver around the pocket and find open receivers.

The junior picked apart Salpointe’s secondary, often finding Shaffer (four receptions for 87 yards) or senior tight end Hayden Hatten (four for 112).

Hatten, along with his twin brother, linebacker Hogan Hatten, transferred to Saguaro during the off season from Pinnacle. Though the two had to sit out the first five games under Arizona Interscholastic Association transfer rules, it was worthwhile in the end.

“There is a rush of emotions going through my body. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad because it’s my last game,” Hayden Hatten said. “These are my brothers. This was a life-changing experience with a special program.

“I’m blessed to be a part of it.”

Mohns does not see the Saguaro dynasty coming to an end any time soon. While yet another talented group of seniors departs with a championship trophy, more talented players are eager to step up.

“We had such a great group of seniors,” Mohns said. “There were kids I didn’t want to look in the eye if we would have lost. Our hard work paid off. I feel so great for our kids. Part of me feels guilty because there are some really deserving teams that had to take that second-place trophy.

“But at the end of the day we love it. We strive for it and we can’t get enough of it.  

Saguaro 42, Salpointe Catholic 16

Saguaro                      14  7  7  14  - 42

Salpointe Catholic       7   6  3    0 – 16

First

Sag – Benjamin 10 run (Lewis kick), 6:16.

Sal – Robinson 36 run (Chakraborty kick), 4:23.

Sag – Johnson 90 kickoff return (Lewis kick), 4:09.

Second

Sal – Chang 33 pass from Green (kick failed), 8:47.

Sag – Soelle 8 run (Lewis kick), 2:57.

Third

Sag – Shaffer 78 pass from Beverett (Lewis kick), 10:35.

Sal – FG, Chakraborty 33, 4:10.

Fourth

Sag – Ha. Hatten 1 run (Lewis kick), 10:47.

Sag – Shaffer 1 pass from Ha. Hatten (Lewis kick), 2:26.

Team statistics

                           Saguaro          SC

First downs          16                   23

Rush-yards          34-216             38-209

Comp-Att-Int       14-19-0            14-23-0

Pass yard             230                 181

Total yards           446                 390

Fumbles/lost        0/0                  3/0

Penalties              10-109            5-36

Individual statistics

Rushing

Saguaro – Benjamin 17-128, Johnson 8-39, Beverett 2-25, Soelle 3-18. Salpointe Catholic – Robinson 27-155, Padilla 3-25, Cordero 4-19, Figueroa 1-7.

Passing

Saguaro – Beverett 13-18-0, 229 yards, Ha. Hatten 1-1-0, 1. Salpointe Catholic – Green 14-23-0, 183.

Receiving

Saguaro – Johnson 5-24, Ha. Hatten 4-112, Shaffer 4-87, Soelle 1-7. Salpointe Catholic – Chang 4-69, Ransom 3-45, Robinson 3-22, Padilla 1-7.

Contact Zach Alvira at zalvira@timespublications.com and follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.