Some might call tonight's game a rematch of the season opener between Cactus and Saguaro, in which the Cobras beat the Sabercats. But this was a whole new Saguaro team taking on the Cobras tonight. Since their season-opening loss to Cactus, they have not lost a single game and last week they beat the reigning 4A State Champions, Tucson Sunnyside. The Cactus Cobras, who have been continuously dubbed as overrated, hoped to once again prove skeptics wrong.
One could easily see the combination of anxiety and adrenaline (and probably a little bit of cold weather) on the faces of players from both teams. Who wouldn't be nervous! Only one win away from the state championship! Nerves got the better of the Cobras as they fumbled on the opening kickoff, which they were able to recover. However, on this opening drive Cactus QB Jon Tobin threw an interception credited to Saguaro DB John Casale. Taking over at the Cobra 45 yard line, the Sabercats started off with a very strong opening offensive drive, but a series of penalties forced Saguaro to punt. Impressive play by both defenses ensured that neither offense would score. At the end of the first quarter the game was tied at zero.
So which team was going to have the first big offensive play? Who was going to score first? Even well into the second quarter, these questions were weighing on everyone's mind. Tobin and the Cobra offense struck first, hitting sophomore WR Manny Solarez on a pass reception which put Cactus inside the Saguaro 20 yard line. A few plays later, RB Glenn Koehler shed about four or five tacklers for a 7 yard touchdown, putting Cactus up 6-0. Miscommunication between the holder and kicker led to a botched extra point. On the next drive, Saguaro was completely shut down by the Cobra defense. Cactus, usually known for their fast paced and high scoring offense, has continued to succeed because of their defense. Saguaro's defense was also very impressive. Halfway through the second quarter, the Cobras were in scoring position again. On a third and one play, Sabercat LB Mike Young sacked Tobin for a loss of 10, forcing Cactus to try for a field goal. Ezra Ricks' kick was good from 37 yards. With the end of the half drawing near, Saguaro made a strong offensive drive. The Sabercats were looking at third and 20 when they made a gutsy call for a QB draw. John Sanders had just enough to get the first down. Junior RB Tyler Porras followed up with a 20 yard gain just a few plays later. Just as quickly as the Sabercats gained momentum, the Cobra defense took it away. With little over a minute left, Cactus LB Mike Schmitt sacked Sanders, securing their 9-0 lead going into halftime.
Neither offense had been very productive, but Cactus had points on the board, so they could afford to just stick to their game plan. Saguaro decided to get a little tricky late in the third quarter with the good ol' halfback pass. The Sabercats caught Cactus off guard as WR John Casale hit Chad Kidder for a sizeable gain. Saguaro couldn't keep the drive alive and was forced to punt. Cactus turned right back around with a similar play, giving Saguaro a taste of their own medicine. Sophomore QB Tim Lyerla came in as a slot and hit up QB Tobin for a 38 yard gain.
Continuing their drive from the third quarter, the Cobras were now faced with fourth and inches. The Cobras had no where to go as they were met with at the line of scrimmage by the Sabercats. If Saguaro was to have a chance in this game, they needed to score now. Saguaro's defense held the Cactus offense in the fourth quarter, but Cactus did likewise. The Sabercats' final effort was a series of deep passes with just over a minute left. Cactus DB Kenny White picked off one of these passes and Cobra fans erupted into a unanimous chant… "ASU! ASU! ASU!…".
FINAL SCORE Cactus 9 Saguaro 0
Once again, the Cactus defense all around. In particular…
Cactus LB Ladarius Howard 12 tackles on the night.
The Cactus defense has been able to carry their team throughout the playoffs. Tonight was no exception. The Cactus offense did not have a ‘bad' game per se, but they did not play the way that they need to if they want to win a state championship.
This will be Cactus' second consecutive trip to the 4A state championship. They have made multiple appearances to the state championship, but have yet to win one. Cactus has been counted off throughout the playoffs and will undoubtedly be the underdogs in the championship game next Saturday. I truly believe that if their defense continues to play the way that they have been, they can win the state championship…provided their offense puts up the points that we're used to seeing Cactus score.