Pre-game Notes: This is the 4A-11 State Championship game being played at Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University. Notre Dame has been seen by many as the favorite to repeat as the champions. Coach Scot Bemis and his staff have done an outstanding job keeping the team focused on playing their best each week. It is a challenge, when the team wins big each week over its opponents, to not get bored or to think all they need to do is just show up. Each week the coaches have kept the Saints on a mission to play to their potential and not become complacent with their talent. Rarely do opposing coaches see as much talent on one team as they do with this years Saints team. A defense that has size, a physical mindset and not allowing many points, a running game with a strong trio of Andrew Stutz, Patrick Foley and Folabi Solanke, a line that dominates the field each and every week, and QB's Shane Wolfe and Will King offering different packages for the offense. One coach from 4A-1 told others he could not believe the size of the Notre Dame team. The Saints are one win away from their second title in a row and to increase their winning streak to 23 games.
There is one team from Tucson that is not interested in hearing all the hype about Notre Dame and that team is the Santa Rita Eagles. This team is coached by Southern Arizona legend Jeff Scurran who two years took over a 0-10 team and in his first year led them to the semi-finals and this year the finals for the first time ever. Coach Scurran has a history of taking programs and turning them into winners. He was at Sabino from 1988-1999 winning three state titles, he started the football program at Pima Community College and led them to a Bowl game and defeated the number 2 ranked team in the junior college rankings. He is on the verge of winning another title this time with his Santa Rita team. It did not take long for the team to take to their new coach as he worked on their grades as well as their football fundamentals. The Eagles have a talented QB in junior Ian Garlets who is a double threat by effectively running and passing the ball. One Tucson paper thinks he is one of the better quarterbacks down south, he also is one of the best strong safeties in the Old Pueblo. His target is dangerous and speedy WR J.J. Holliday with 1,000 yards receiving and 11 TD's and is being looked at by some Pac-10 schools. Last week against Coronado the Eagles running game behind Garlets, RB's Tamarin Jones and Chris Correa each scored two touchdowns and rushed for 299 yards. The Santa Rita defense started off their season with three straight shutouts and one of their leaders is LB Mark Sanchez, it's a defense that will bend but doesn't break by giving up the big play. Coach Scurran has taken shots against Notre Dame in the media and understandably the feeling from Tucson by some is that the media only covers the metro schools and give little attention to the Southern schools. This might be the fire that Coach Scurran can use to get his team playing together in the championship game.
Recap: After a Santa Rita punt Notre Dame touches the ball for the first time and scores on the second play as RB Andrew Stutz blasts off 31 yards for the touchdown and the Saints lead 7-0. (This year in a number of games the Saints scored in their opening drives in both halves). Santa Rita has speed to burn and it shows when QB Ian Garlets hits WR J.J. Holliday on a long pass and sets up a short run by Garlets for the touchdown for the Eagles. The extra point attempt fails and its 7-6 Saints. Santa Rita scores again this time on a 14 play drive with Garlets connecting again with Holliday on a 13-yard TD pass and the Eagles lead 13-7. Notre Dame's next drive is temporarily stalled when forced to punt and it's partially blocked and the loose ball is recovered by the Saints to keep possession. This sets up RB Patrick Foley running 37 yards for the score and the Saints regain the lead 14-13. A poor Santa Rita punt gives the Saints excellent field position and drives to the 5-yard line but the Eagles hold and Andy Wilder kicks a 22-yard field goal to make it 17-13 Notre Dame at the half.
The second half begins with Notre Dame making it the Andrew Stutz and Patrick Foley show as the Saints run on every play of the 14 play-80 yard drive and Stutz scores from 6 yards out with 5:34 remaining in the quarter and the lead increases to 24-13 Saints. Santa Rita responds with a quick drive as Clint Smith and Matt Sanchez make some catches for big yardage and on the 6th play of the drive Smith runs and fumbles in the end zone and the ball is recovered by J.J. Holliday and the Eagles close the gap to 24-20 Saints. Sticking mainly with the run Notre Dame drives the ball to the Eagles 36 and Andy Wilder adds three points with a 36-yard field goal and Notre Dame is up 27-20. With 9:54 in the game Saints Coach Scot Bemis shows a new formation with everyone lined up tight and only one back and everyone blocking in one direction. This works to perfection as 10 straight runs give Wilder another field goal and the lead increases by 10 points, Notre Dame 30-20. Wilder intercepts a Santa Rita pass to stop drive and with 4:46 remaining the Saints smell victory by killing time with running plays. This works until Notre Dame fumbles the ball and the Eagles recover with 1:37 remaining. From midfield the Eagles drive quickly and WR J.J. Holliday makes an unbelievable catch by out jumping the defenders for a 25 yard touchdown catch with 19 second remaining and the Eagles now trail only by four, 30-26. The onsides kick is recovered by the Saints and they hang on to win their second state championship in a row with the final score Notre Dame 30, Santa Rita 26.
Bottom line: Andrew Stutz or Patrick Foley, pick your poison. The offensive live allowed the Saints to keep possession of the ball and not allow the speed of Santa Rita to have more opportunities. Santa Rita decided to leave Tucson at six in the morning and in spite of the travel gave the Saints a battle. The 26 points were the most given up by the Saints this year. In the post game interview Coach Bemis said last years first championship was great and this year felt more like a relief as everyone was giving the Saints their best shot. Coach Bemis and staff really showed their stuff by keeping this team on track the entire season. It is a challenge to keep a team that is winning by good margins to stay on top of their game. This staff did the job this year. It didn't take a genius to think that Notre Dame was the favorite to win the state title this year but its another thing to make it happen. Notre Dame has won its 23rd game in a row and finishes the year at 14-0. The talent of the Saints made them enjoyable to watch this year. Kudos to Santa Rita for playing the Saints tough and for getting this far, they matched the Saints and with a couple of breaks could of won the whole thing. Coach Scurran will have this team ready for another playoff run. Santa Rita finishes the year at 12-2.
Game ball: The player getting this game ball is Andrew Stutz. Coach Bemis gave him a large number of carries and he showed no signs of slowing down late in the game. The unit game ball goes to the big "uglies" on the offensive line. What a joy it gave old fashion football fans to see the line open up the holes for the Saints backs. Notre Dame told Santa Rita we are running, what are you going to do about it? Coach Bemis thinks this is the best line he has ever had at any level.