Scottsdale Saguaro is 13-0. It has outscored its opponents 511-125. If it beats Tucson Canyon del Oro Saturday, it will win its second consecutive Class 4A Division I title.
By any measure, it has been an extraordinary season.
But a perfect season?
The Sabercats have had to endure two near-tragedies that threatened their season and their faith in one another.
“It’s really been a tough year,” first-year coach John Sanders said. “It wasn’t easy getting here.”
The first storm occurred on the night of Sept. 30, when the players’ cell phones started buzzing with a text message: Senior running back/linebacker Jake Dunn had been seriously injured in a skateboarding accident on a Fountain Hills street.
When the players got to the hospital, they discovered Dunn had suffered major head trauma and was in a coma. They sat in the waiting room, unsure of what to say to one another.
“We were holding each other, crying, trying to pull through,” junior lineman Corey Adams said.
The next morning, a Monday, Sanders had his players leave their first-period classes and meet in the team’s film room. He told them the best thing they could do for Dunn was to get back on the field and win football games. School counselors were available if the players needed to talk to someone.
“It was very somber,” senior lineman Derek Bisgard said. “Most of us stayed in the locker room all day. We just stuck together and talked to each other.”
That Friday, Saguaro played Cave Creek Cactus Shadows. The players wore No. 46 stickers on their helmet to honor Dunn and asked Sanders if they could score 46 points on his behalf.
They scored 42 — in the first half — while wondering if their teammate would ever join them again.
“Things weren’t looking good those first two or three weeks,” Adams said. “First it would sound like he was getting better, then it was we might lose him.”
Dunn did get better. He’s back at practice, if not in a uniform, and he’ll be on the sideline for Saturday’s title game.
“It’s a miracle that he’s with us,” Sanders said.
Just as the Sabercats were rejoicing in Dunn’s recovery, they were hit with another body blow. Marley McLaughlin , the 2-year-old sister of junior running back/defensive back Austin Swindle, was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Oct. 29.
Brain cancer, the doctors feared.
Marley spent six weeks in the hospital. She underwent surgery for a brain tumor, but, thankfully, there was no cancer. She went home Wednesday and doctors are optimistic she’ll make a full recovery.
“They’re calling her the 'Miracle Child,’ ” Swindle said.
There were times during the season when Sanders wondered if he would lose his team to its sorrows. He could see in their eyes and their body language that football was the furthest thing from their mind.
“They started to stray from time to time,” he said. “It has been very difficult to get focused.”
But the Sabercats didn’t give in. They grew. They bonded. They decided they wouldn’t let the adversity rule — and ruin — their season.
And now here they are, one victory from a championship.
“We need to step up and win one more game for everybody,” Bisgard said.
And if they do, with Dunn on the sideline and Marley back home?
“Then,” Sanders said, “it would be a perfect season.”
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday at 3:25 p.m. on The Fan (1060 AM) with Bob Kemp.