Saguaro vs Liberty

Saguaro stunned top-ranked Liberty Saturday night in Glendale as the Sabercats ran a 2-point conversion to beat the Lions in the semifinal round of the Open Division playoffs.

The second round of the Open Division Playoffs between Scottsdale Saguaro and Peoria Liberty was highly anticipated, and it didn’t disappoint.

The No. 1 seeded Liberty, a top 15 team in the nation, a program who hasn’t been touched all year and looking to avenge their two straight semifinal losses in the past two Open playoffs, against the defending state champions in Saguaro.

The hype turned out to be merited, as Saguaro would come out on top by a score of 43-42, in a game that could likely be considered the best of the year until this point.

“It's just awesome and it's unbelievable,” Saguaro Head Coach Jason Mohns said. “I can't believe that that just happened, but we worked so hard, we prepared, we watched so much film. So, our kids were prepared that if we got in that situation that we could win a game like that.”

On a rainy night at Mountain Ridge High School, the Lions and Sabercats were treated to a jam-packed crowd at kickoff and the energy was a constant buzz all throughout.

Liberty started off with the ball, to which they were forced to punt by Saguaro’s defense. The Sabercats would respond with a convincing drive down the field on the back of their senior quarterback Devon Dampier, capped with a Dampier touchdown pass to receiver Dajon Hinton, putting them up 7-0 late in the first quarter.

The Lions wouldn’t shy away though, as the current MVP of the season, junior quarterback Navi Bruzon, would walk the Liberty offense down the field in just over two minutes, and sneak in a 1-yard touchdown, knotting the game at seven all to end the quietest of the four quarters.

Liberty would continue the momentum into the second quarter, as they would once again find themselves in the red zone. This time head coach Colin Thomas would reach deep in the bag of plays, coming up with a direct snap to senior linebacker Anthony Ruiz, who would power into the end zone, setting the Lions up 14-7.

Answering right back would be Dampier and Saguaro, as he would take a 54-yard quarterback keeper to the end zone, running away from all would be tacklers, and tying the game back up 14-14 with seven minutes remaining in the half.

Saguaro would get the ball right back and get right down into the red zone yet again, where receiver Zaccheus Cooper would finish off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown, putting the Sabercats in the lead 21-14.

This back-and-forth affair would continue, as Bruzon would complete a 55-yard pass to move the Lions down the field, and he would keep it himself for another rushing touchdown, this time from 3 yards out and tying the game back up at 21-21 going into the half.

“They didn't want this to be a dogfight, we knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Mohns said. “So, we said we'd get in that situation that plays into our hands.”

The third quarter started off with a bang for Liberty, as their defense forced a three and out, which would be followed up by a bad Saguaro punt giving them the ball on the Saguaro side of the field.

The opportunity wouldn’t go wasted, as yet again Bruzon would rush for a 7-yard touchdown and giving Liberty the edge 28-21 early in the third quarter.

In typical fashion though, the Sabercats would come right back, this time to the tune of a nine play, 94-yard drive on the back of junior receiver JoJo Clark, as he would spark the offense with a massive play to lead Saguaro into the red zone, and cap it off himself with a 6-yard touchdown from Dampier on the sprint out option, and tying the game back up, 28-28.

Bruzon and the Lions would find themselves back in the driver’s seat just six plays later though, as Bruzon sprinted the offense down the field, finishing with a sweep play to receiver Raneill Calvin for an 11-yard touchdown, ending the quarter 35-28.

The momentum would continue for Liberty as their defense would capitalize on a rare Dampier mistake, creating a 60-yard interception returned for a touchdown by defensive back Wesley Grim, furthering their lead to the biggest in the game, 42-28 with only 11:00 left in the game.

Not to be denied though, Dampier went back to the well, finding Clark for yet another big play, a long touchdown pass that would tighten the Liberty lead to just seven points, 42-35.

Saguaro’s defense stood tall, with senior defensive lineman Diontae LaMaide swatting a Bruzon pass on third down and forcing the Lions to punt, leaving Dampier and the offense just 5:00 to go 94 yards yet again, this time with likely the game on the line.

The pressure wasn’t enough to rattle Dampier though, as he would lead a 13-play drive, converting on fourth down multiple times; do or die situations for all of them. He would cap off the drive with a long touchdown pass to receiver Mason Whitaker, putting the Sabercats within one point of the Lions, 42-41.

Coach Mohns wouldn’t stop there, as he wanted to go for the win instead of the tie, opting to go for two.

“We have got nothing to lose,” Mohns said about the decision. “We said our mentality was going to be we're going to throw everything we got at them. We're going to push our chips all in, and that's what we did.”

The decision would prove to be the best of the year so far, as Dampier found a wide-open Cooper for the two-point conversion and setting Saguaro in the lead 43-42 with only one minute remaining.

After completing his first pass of the drive, Bruzon would be intercepted on the second play, sealing the game in Saguaro’s favor.

“I'm exceptionally proud of (the players),” Thomas said. “It's been a great group to coach. We had a lot of really good football players and great young men. It's been tremendous season and they've elevated the program to new heights.”

“Obviously we thought the ball would bounce our way a little bit tonight, it didn’t happen,” Thomas added. “Credit to Saguaro.”

With knocking off the top seed, Saguaro will go on to face Chandler Basha in the Open Division State Championship at ASU Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, December 10.

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