Saguaro senior linebacker tight end Will Shaffer

Saguaro senior linebacker and tight end Will Shaffer (in black) believes he and his team now have the ability to make a statement when they take on Chandler in the Open Division state championship on Saturday, Dec. 7.

Saguaro football has made a habit of playing deep into November and early December each football season, but its final game in 2019 presents a new challenge.

Winners of the past six 4A conference championships, 11-1 Saguaro’s 20-16 comeback victory over Hamilton on November 23 earned it a spot in the newly-formed Open Division final against Chandler High, the defending 6A big-school champs. More importantly, Saguaro feels it has earned more respect from the local football community after beating a 5A and 6A school in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the tournament.

“We’ve listened a long time to people saying, ‘Yeah, but.’ Or, ‘Yeah, Saguaro’s good, but,’ and we had a lot to prove. They were playing for not just this team, they were playing for a lot of guys that came before them that had to hear, ‘Yeah, but,’ so no more,” coach Jason Mohns said.

“It’s more Saguaro football history,” added senior linebacker and tight end Will Shaffer, “Every time Saguaro football wins a championship it’s always, ‘Y’all are 4A, y’all don’t play anybody,’ so now we get a chance to make this statement and go ahead and play this type of team, it’s just a great opportunity for us.”

The Hamilton win was the first close game the Sabercats have played in months. Saguaro has beaten every opponent by 14 or more points since an 18-10 loss to San Diego Cathedral Catholic on October 31.

Mohns said this game, while nerve-racking, served to reinforce the team’s competitive spirit. The Sabercats were reminded they could overcome adversity with talent and trust in each other.

“We’re not very comfortable being uncomfortable, and when you have a team that’s as talented as this, and maybe playing some teams that can’t line up with you, you get used to just jumping out and boat racing teams. And it’s a party on the sidelines, and so early in the year when somebody came out and punched us back, we lost ourselves a little bit,” Mohns said.

But, the Sabercats worked through the struggle and came out with a close victory to show for it.

Now, No. 1, undefeated Chandler lies ahead.

Saguaro has touted one of the state’s best defenses, regardless of conference, all season. It boasts a stable of highly-recruited senior defensive backs with several talented linebackers, and quality playmakers to fill in other spots. The Sabercats had not allowed a touchdown since defeating Desert Edge 63-14 on Oct. 4.

Hamilton junior quarterback Gavin Goulette saw that firepower firsthand. He entered Saturday’s contest late after starter Nick Arvay was injured. The Sabercats held the Huskies scoreless in the second half and capped off the effort with a goal line stand in the dying seconds.

Goulette, who was blitzed on the final offensive play of the game and threw a rushed, incomplete pass, had nothing but compliments to say about the opposing unit.

“That Saguaro defense is really good. That’s going to take them places,” he said.

Saguaro will likely need that sort of production again. The undefeated Wolves defeated Salpointe Catholic 24-16 on the other side of the bracket in their lowest offensive output this season. In eleven games prior, Chandler averaged over 53 points.

But, if the Sabercats execute the way they believe they can, and the players use the two-week break to heal their bruises effectively, they believe another banner and gold ball could be in their future.

“We’re excited to play them, and I think this is a game that a lot of people wanted to see,” Saguaro senior defensive back Jacobe Covington said. 

“A lot of people told us we weren’t going to make it this far, and I think the whole team collectively wanted to prove a point. Now we just have one more step to go.”