Scottsdale Saguaro assistant coach Frank Ruben just had to take a picture, for old time’s sake. He grabbed Austin Briehl from Scottsdale Notre Dame’s table and Drew Maggi and Ray Polk from Phoenix Brophy’s table at state championship media day on Tuesday.
Then he called over Tim Ruben, Derek Bisgard and Chris Merrill from the Saguaro booth and had them all smile for a shot, much the way they did after winning the Pop Warner state title together as eighth-graders four years ago.
All six might be playing Division I college football next year, and all except Maggi were in the Saguaro boundaries entering their freshman year of high school in 2004.
Polk and Briehl eventually chose private schools, but it sure lets the mind wander.
What if the Sabercats had Polk, an All-Tribune first-teamer last year, standing next to Ruben, this year’s Gatorade State Player of the Year, in the backfield, just like they did when they were 12?
How about using Briehl as that big target down the middle?
“I can’t even imagine,” Frank Ruben said. “Now that would’ve been a great team.”
Saguaro coach John Sanders relishes the thought.
“Had we been blessed not to have private schools in the Valley, we’d be a lot better,” Sanders said.
But don’t shed a tear for the Sabercats just yet, because it’s hard to be a lot better than they are already.
Heading into tonight’s 4A-I state title game against Tucson Canyon del Oro, Saguaro is 13-0 and the top seed in the tournament. It is the defending state champion and the owner of an 18-game winning streak.
It has four linemen who will be playing Division I football next season and the state’s best dual-threat quarterback in Tim Ruben.
Last week’s semifinal win over Scottsdale Chaparral was the second time this year Saguaro beat the Firebirds in what Sanders calls the best rivalry in the state. And it was done on a football field that more closely resembled a swimming pool.
There is only one thing left to accomplish for the Sabercats, something that’s been on their minds since the bus ride home after last year’s title game — a repeat.
“We’ve got one more game,” running back Beau Burton said. “Let’s play hard and finish it.”
For its part, CDO isn’t buying into the hype. The Dorados have lost just once and have given up just seven points in three state tournament games.
Last week, they held Peoria star running back Jamal Miles to 15 yards rushing.
“I’m sure we’ll come up with a defensive scheme to shut them down, just like we’ve done every week so far,” CDO linebacker Brent Lush said. “We’re confident. We’re ready to play. There’s really no sense of being intimidated.
“They’re the same age and they’re high school students, too.”
After last week’s win over Chaparral, Saguaro was understandably excited, sliding on the water-soaked field after the game.
Sanders was initially concerned about a lack of focus heading into this game, but now believes playing on the grandest stage will outweigh any distractions.
“We’re coming to the show at the dome. We better not show up flat,” Sanders said. “These kids know they’re playing a very good football team. You don’t get here without being real good. I don’t think we’re going to have a problem getting up.”
By the numbers
18 Consecutive victories for the Sabercats, the longest active streak in the state.
8 Games in which Saguaro has allowed seven or fewer points. Included in that total are three shutouts.
7 Points Canyon del Oro has allowed in the postseason, the fewest of any 4A or 5A team.
30 Years since the Dorados played in a state championship game. They’re 2-0, having won the 4A title in 1976 and ’77.
Anonymous coaches’ scouting report
Saguaro: If (quarterback) Tim Ruben is successful, so goes Saguaro. If you take him away, you give yourself an opportunity. You’ve got to put pressure on him. You’ve got to get to their offensive line so they can’t get to the second level (of your defense). From an offensive standpoint, you’ve got to control the ball and run as much clock as you can and keep their offense off the field because it is so explosive. They tend to get a little frustrated when that happens. You can run on them, you just have to be patient with it. If they do have a weakness, it is their pass defense. On special teams, you have to kick it away from their punt returner (Paul) Porras because he’s an explosive kid. Other than that, their kicking game is very average.
Canyon del Oro: Their quarterback (Daniel Nicholas) is tremendous. If CDO loses him, they’d be in big trouble. They’re good enough offensively to score on anybody. CDO is really underrated defensively because they’ve scored so many points this year. It’s a very aggressive, blitz-oriented type of defense that can put a lot of pressure on people. They were made to defend the type of spread offense Saguaro likes to run. That said, they have to eliminate Saguaro’s big-play opportunities. Saguaro’s receivers have the opportunity to really do a god job against CDO’s corners. I think (receiver Paul) Porras can have a huge night. You have to be able to recognize their multiple blitz packages. They come from everywhere. They can win the game for sure.
Saguaro vs. Canyon del Oro
When: 1:07 p.m. today
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale
TV: Cox Channel 7
Records: CDO 12-1, Saguaro 13-0