Every inch matters in football, especially when involved in a heavy-weight bout involving two of the top 50 teams in the nation.
Penalties, turnovers and generic miscues have the potential to become even more costly against a high-caliber opponent that can take those mistakes and turn them into points. On Saturday night in San Diego during the 2019 Honor Bowl, Saguaro learned that the hard way.
Facing fourth and goal from the 4-yard line with 19 seconds left, Saguaro quarterback Tyler Beverett’s pass fell incomplete in the end zone for what could have been the game-tying touchdown against Cathedral Catholic, as the Dons defeated the Sabercats, 18-10.
“We play games like this early to see where we are and we found out we aren’t where we want to be,” Saguaro coach Jason Mohns said. “It’s hard to play a team like that when you haven’t established your identity. I’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball to our playmakers.”
The game itself came down to a battle between the defenses, as neither team could initially make enough impact plays to pull away.
Beverett connected on a 37-yard pass to Polk early in the first quarter, swaying the momentum away from the home side. The long-ball put Saguaro in scoring position inside the redzone, but an interception at the line of scrimmage by Cathedral senior linebacker Joseph Sprague a few plays later took away the Sabercats’ momentum.
From there, Cathedral went to its ground-and-pound style of hurry-up offense. The Dons wasted little time getting set at the line each play, at times catching Saguaro off-guard. It became clear early on they planned to pound the ball up the middle with their workhorse back, senior Zavien Watson.
Watson’s load was steady throughout the night, as he ended with 27 carries for 160 yards and three touchdowns. His first score of the night came with just over a minute remaining in the first half. Saguaro had already managed to take the lead thanks to a 32-yard field goal from Parker Lewis, but Cathedral quickly answered with a long drive capped off by a 4-yard plunge from Watson.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound back’s second score came on a 22-yard scamper along the left sideline. His third and final, which put the most pressure on Saguaro to answer, came in the fourth quarter after yet another long drive.
Cathedral’s success up the middle limited the amount of passes they would attempt. Junior quarterback DJ Ralph, one of the top in California, finished 2-for-4 for 14 yards.
But even with Cathedral’s success on the ground, Saguaro’s defense still gave them ample amounts of opportunity to win the game. On several occasions the Sabercat defensive tackles and linebackers would force Cathedral backs to bounce outside after initially committing to the middle. That was where the two of the best defensive backs in the country, Kelee Ringo and Jacobe Covington, waited.
“Defensively, we played well enough to win the game,” Mohns said. “We forced them outside and let our two physical cornerbacks get involved in the run game.”
Saguaro’s offense found a rhythm late in its two-minute package, as Beverett managed to connect with Polk for yet another big gain that appeared in person to be a touchdown. However, refs ruled that Polk stepped out at the 1-yard line.
Beverett ran it in a play later, diminishing Cathedral’s lead at the time to 12-10. But penalties wound up being Saguaro’s kryptonite, as it helped the Dons score again before coming up with a crucial stop deep in their own territory to clinch the win.
“We just never for into a rhythm offensively,” Mohns said. “We did it in spurts and then we would shoot ourselves in the foot”
The loss shouldn’t hurt Saguaro’s standing in terms of making it to the Open Division 8-team playoff tournament at the end of the season due to the overall strength of Cathedral as a program. But the Sabercats likely have to win out from this point on to have a shot.
While upset following the final buzzer at Cathedral Catholic, Saguaro’s players also appeared determined to right the ship, and fast. That will begin next Saturday as Saguaro hits the road again to take on Faith Lutheran (1-1) from Nevada in the Polynesian Classic at Bishop Gorman High School.
“This loss wasn’t a lack of preparation, it was a lack of execution from everyone involved,” Mohns said. “This loss gives us things to work on and grow from, so that’s what we are going to do.”
Sag -- 0 3 0 7 - 10
CC -- 0 6 6 6 – 18
Sag – Lewis 32 FG, 6:56
CC – Watson 4 run, 1:29
CC – Watson 22 run, 8:15
Sag – Beverett 1 run (Lewis kick), 11:10
CC – Watson 4 run, 4:16