What a great game for the high school football fan between the Sunnyside Blue Devils and the visiting Saguaro Sabercats. Sunnyside's hopes of a repeat took a tumble Friday night in what was one of the best defensive battles of the season as Saguaro executed their game plan to near perfection, knocking off the defending 4A state champs.
Both teams came into the game playing at their peaks with Sunnyside being undefeated winning 11 straight while the Sabercats have reeled off 10 in a row since their opening week loss to Cactus but Sunnyside had yet to face a team of Saguaro's caliber during the regular season. The Sabercats used their strong run game led by Tyler Porras to chew up the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Sunnyside's dangerous offense. Saguaro dominated the time of possession battle keeping the ball for more than two and a half quarters and dominated in the trenches on defense, shutting down Xavier Smith for only 20 yds on 13 carries for the entire game. Sunnyside's offense took a huge blow last week when star QB Jaime Cota went down with an ankle injury after scrambling for 50 yds but he would return for this game, still hobbled by the injury.
Saguaro set the tone right out of the starting gate with a great defensive series, forcing a three and out, leading the way to a Sunnyside punt. Saguaro took over at their own 35 and used the run to slowly move down the field, using up more than eight minutes on the clock. Aided by 25 penalty yards, the Sabercats moved into field goal range and struck the first blow with a 29 yarder from Juan Bongarra. The quarter would end with the Sabercats up 3-0 and Sunnyside in possession.
Saguaro 3 Sunnyside 0
The Blue Devils would try going to the air on their next possession in hopes of gaining some rhythm on offense. With Cota struggling run on his ankle, head coach Richard Sanchez had him go from the shotgun. Cota connected on the first play of the drive for 13 yards to freshmen RB Javon Stephenson. Two plays later, Cota's pass was picked off by Porras, deep in Sunnyside territory and returned to the 25, setting up great field position for the Sabercats. However, the Blue Devils defense held Saguaro and forced another FG attempt, this time from 45 yds out as Bongarra was successful on his second attempt. Saguaro 6 Sunnyside 0
With stifling defense, Saguaro got possession for one last time late in the half. The Sabercats went for throat of Sunnyside when Sanders found John Casale in the end zone for a 34 yd score with less than two minutes to go but a holding penalty would take the score away and Saguaro would go in with a 6-0 lead at the half.
Defense dominated the 3rd quarter by both teams as Saguaro continued to eat away at the clock, taking the maximum amount of time between each play without being penalized. The Sabercats run game suffered a minor set back when Porras went down with an injury but he would return later in the fourth quarter. The third quarter came to an end with Saguaro still leading 6-0.
Then came the exciting and intense 4th quarter. Saguaro had possession to open and was sticking to their game plan, pounding out 3-4 yds a carry on the drive. Sunnyside's defense would step it up putting a halt to the drive at the 24 yd line. Saguaro sent out Bongarra for another FG try from 41 yds out. With a good snap and hold, Bongarra's kick was blocked by Xavier Smith who exploded through line giving Sunnyside possession and some momentum that they had been lacking all game. Saguaro's defense quickly put an end to that forcing a three and out. At this point of the game, Sunnyside had only been able to muster out 54 yds on 25 plays, showing the dominance of the Sabercats D.
Then things got real interesting. Sunnyside would get the ball back at midfield with less than 4 minutes remaining in hopes of making a comeback. As the crowd began to roar louder and louder rooting on the home team, The Blue Devil's offense suffered back to back false start penalties. On 1st and 20, Cota hit receiver George Garza in stride down the sideline with one of the prettiest passes I have seen all year for 57 yds down to the 3 yd line. With a tailback by the name of Xavier Smith and 1st and goal from the 3, you might be thinking that a touchdown is sure thing. Wrong! The Sabercats were relentless stopping Smith on 4 straight runs, the biggest coming on fourth and a foot capping off the upset of the defending state champs.
Final Saguaro 6 Sunnyside 0
Bottom Line: Saguaro did what nobody thought they could do and in the Sunnyside's own back yard. Cota's inability to move around in the pocket, which is what he has become known for, was too much for Sunnyside's offense to overcome. Although it was a great game, it was sloppy. Sunnyside was penalized 14 times while Saguaro was penalized around 10. Next weeks rematch between Cactus and Saguaro should be another great one with Sabercats seeking revenge for their week one loss. With the way Saguaro's D is playing, they will be a force to reckon with on the road to Tempe.
Game Balls: The entire Saguaro D for such a dominating performance. Defense proves it wins games in this one. Saguaro O-line played great also while trading punches with mean Sunnyside front 7. Lastly to Juan Bongarra, the provider of the games only points.