Division III state championship
Who: No. 3 Cactus vs. No. 5 Saguaro
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Walkup Skydome, Flagstaff
Records: Cactus 11-1; Saguaro 11-2
Last meeting: Saguaro 62, Cactus 24 (Sept. 23)
Coach: Larry Fetkenhier
Aug. 26 vs. Moon Valley W 53-0
Sep. 10 vs. Peoria W 31-0
Sep. 16 at Greenway W 49-0
Sep. 23 vs. Saguaro L 62-24
Sep. 30 at Thunderbird W 32-22
Oct. 6 vs. Glendale W 68-0
Oct. 14 at Agua Fria W 49-0
Oct. 21 vs. Sunrise Mountain W 49-27
Oct. 28 vs. Liberty W 53-34
Nov. 4 vs. Desert Edge W 33-6
Nov. 10 vs. Nogales W 48-7
Nov. 19 vs. Arcadia W 37-0
(Numbers in parentheses)
OL - (74) Austin Widick, 6-0, 232, Sr.
OL - (60) Denzel Dotson, 6-4, 299, Sr.
OL - (73) John Snyder, 6-2, 232, Sr.
OL - (71) R.J. Deande, 6-4, 318, Jr.
OL - (76) Ryan Kern, 6-0, 259, Jr.
WR - (5) Jacob Schaefer, 6-0, 178, Sr.
WR - (81) Dante Edwards, 6-1, 181, Sr.
WR - (85) Levi Jiles, 6-0, 171, Sr.
WR - (80) Dallas Allen, 6-0, 165, Jr.
RB - (25) Josh Aguirre, 5-9, 166, Sr.
QB - (15) Michael Putko, 6-0, 188, Sr.
K - (6) Brody Riggs, 6-2, 195, Sr.
KR - (20) Kameel Al Khouri, 6-0, 178, Sr./(85) Levi Jiles, 6-0, 171, Sr.
DL - (50) JT Hinson, 5-10, 176, Sr.
DL - (52) Zac Bradley, 6-3, 187, Jr.
DL - (57) Mike Ledesma, 5-11, 231, Sr.
DL - (58) Seth Dealejandro, 6-2, 232, Sr.
LB - (24) Chris Jennings, 5-10, 187, Sr.
LB - (55) Guy Williams, 6-0, 215, Sr.
LB - (53) Antero Taddie, 6-1, 231, Sr.
LB - (5) Jacob Schaefer, 6-0, 178, Sr.
DB - (8) Tyler Johns, 5-10, 156, Sr.
DB - (9) Anthony Alcala, 6-0, 177, Jr.
DB - (20) Kameel Al Khouri, 6-0, 178, Sr.
DB - (22) John Gath, 5-10, 160, So.
P - (15) Michael Putko, 6-0, 188, Sr.
PR - (20) Kameel Al Khuori, 6-0, 178, Sr.
Coach: John Sanders
Aug. 26 vs. Paradise Valley W 63-20
Sep. 2 vs. Thunderbird W 70-21
Sep. 9 at Tempe W 63-6
Sep. 16 at Fountain Hills W 49-13
Sep. 23 at Cactus W 62-24
Sep. 30 vs. Desert Vista L 31-28
Oct. 6 at Washington W 69-19
Oct. 14 vs. Coronado W 56-0
Oct. 21 vs. Arcadia W 70-35
Oct. 28 at Chaparral L 65-0
Nov. 4 vs. Sunrise Mountain W 81-48
Nov. 10 at Queen Creek W 56-28
Nov. 19 vs. Sabino W 49-27
(Numbers in parentheses)
OL - (76) Pete Mettler, 6-2, 230, So.
OL - (78) Tanner Case, 6-1, 305, Sr.
OL - (74) Devin Brunetti, 6-1, 275, Jr.
OL - (67) Dakota Tucker, 6-0, 280, Sr.
OL - (66) Rob Dusz, 6-0, 280, Sr.
WR - (26) Vince Silva, 5-10, 165, Sr.
WR - (12) Dakota Reistad, 5-10, 170, Sr.
WR - (2) Christian Kirk, 5-9, 170, Fr.
TE - (45) Ryan Merrill, 6-1, 215, Sr.
RB - (8) D.J. Foster, 6-0, 185, Sr.
QB - (7) Luke Rubenzer, 5-11, 165, So.
K - (39) Peter Douds, 5-10, 188, Sr./(12) Dakota Reistad, 5-10, 170, Sr.
KR - (20) Ronnie Horne, 5-8, 165, Sr./(2) Christian Kirk, 5-9, 160, Fr.
DL - (22) Kash Robinson, 5-10, 205, Jr.
DL - (66) Rob Dusz, 6-0, 288, Sr.
DL - (61) Hayden Alley, 6-2, 240, Jr.
LB - (6) Erik Mendivil, 5-10, 195, Jr.
LB - (32) Cameron Larson, 6-0, 215, Sr.
LB - (19) Aaron Borg, 6-0, 200, Jr.
LB - (45) Ryan Merrill, 6-1, 215, Jr.
CB - (26) Vince Silva, 5-10, 165, Sr.
SS - (4) Ryan Pierce, 5-7, 155, Sr.
FS - (8) D.J. Foster, 6-0, 185, Sr.
CB - (23) Elijah McDade, 5-10, 185, Sr.
P - (7) Luke Rubenzer, 5-11, 165, So.
PR - (4) Ryan Pierce, 5-7, 155, Sr.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
•D.J.Foster, RB/DB, Saguaro: It doesn't get much more obvious than this. Foster ran for 270 yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries in the schools' first meeting back in late September. He was hardly alone in dismantling a Cactus team that hadn't allowed a point until Week 4, but the Sabercats are going to ride their main man again this time. Will Cactus' stout defense be better this time around? If not, the Sabercats may not need Foster to play much on defense, which would be a big help for his stamina.
•Luke Rubenzer, QB, Saguaro: Only a sophomore, but he did every bit as much damage to Cactus as Foster, with 229 yards passing (almost all in the first half) and four TD throws (three to Cameron Larson), plus 107 yards rushing. Foster sets up Rubenzer's play-action passing and helps create the holes by drawing so much defensive attention. If he doesn't commit turnovers again, Saguaro won't be stopped.
•Michael Putko, QB, Cactus: Speaking of turnovers, it was rough going for Putko as Saguaro had three interceptions including one returned for a touchdown, and Putko only completed 32 percent of his passes in the first meeting. But he threw for 1,509 yards and ran for 1,169 yards and 23 touchdowns. He'll be key if Cactus wants to wear down Saguaro's sometimes-shaky defense.
•Guy Williams, LB, Cactus: Any number of kids fit here on Cactus' defense given the task at hand in this championship game. The linebacker had 11 tackles in the first meeting, and the Bobcats will need a few more guys to proverbially stand on their heads defensively - especially the front seven - to have any chance at reigning in the defending-champion Sabercats.
OTHERS TO WATCH
WR/DB Christian Kirk (493 yards, 5 TD); TE/LB Vince Silva (515 yards, 4 TD); WR/LB Cameron Larson (372 yards, 6 TD); TE/LB Ryan Merrill.
RB Josh Aguirre (1,026 yards, 8 TD); WR Jacob Schaefer (448 yards, 4 TD); WR Dante Edwards (379 yards, 7 TD); DB Kameel Al Khouri (82 tackles, 4 INT); LB William Bishop (51 tackles, 9 sacks); LB Mike Ledesma (42 tackles, 8 sacks).
When Saguaro has the ball: The Sabercats like to get Foster involved early, and the star running back gains yards in chunks. Once Saguaro has established its running game, the passing lanes will begin to open for Rubenzer, and he's very accurate. Saguaro is masterful at mixing things up by taking downfield shots right when the defense seems to get comfortable. Nobody's going to stop Foster, but playing assignment-sound football and not letting his 15-yard gains turn into 70-yarders is the key. The Sabercats will almost assuredly get ahead early, but Cactus must stay patient and try to force long drives in hopes of wearing down the Sabercats. All the key offensive players except for Rubenzer play defense, so the dominance slows in the second half, and Cactus must do enough to stay within striking distance.
When Cactus has the ball: The biggest surprise in the first meeting was the way the Saguaro defense played. It forced four turnovers, allowed only one first down in the first half and smothered everything Cactus tried. If the Sabercats play that well again defensively, this won't be a game. However, Cactus quarterback Michael Putko can beat you throwing or running, and Tucson Sabino dual threat signal caller Dallas Brown gave Saguaro some trouble in that role last week. The Cobras are expected to go with a no-huddle, hurry-up approach which could pay dividends late. Cactus needs to get some semblance of a running game going in this one, something it couldn't do in the first meeting. The Sabercats are susceptible to giving up big plays, and the Cobras will need at least two easy scores to keep pace.
KEYS TO THE GAME
•Getting stops: Nobody has to this point against Saguaro, except for a Div. I school (Desert Vista) for one half of play this year. It may not have shown in late September, but Cactus is strong defensively and well-coached, so Larry Fetkenhier will make changes the second time around. Cactus can't afford to trade score-for-score against Saguaro; almost nobody can. But at least one hand's worth of punts/turnovers on downs will be required of the Cobras to give themselves a chance.
•Altitude: Both schools were more than happy to play this game down in the Valley, but to no avail. So it'll be held in Flagstaff (elevation approx. 7,000 feet). That could be a problem for Saguaro, especially with D.J. Foster carrying so much of the load on offense and being valuable defensively, because the the higher altitude and thinner air causes fatigue much more quickly then it would in the Valley. Advantage Cactus, because almost nobody on the Cobras plays both side of the ball, while Saguaro has almost exclusively two-way players.
•Saguaro's defense: The Sabercats have been gouged at times defensively, and Cactus will almost assuredly put up points, but if Saguaro can force turnovers like it did in the first meeting, the Sabercats can compensate for their shaky defense. They won't shut down Cactus by any means, but Saguaro has to straddle the line between discipline and pressuring Cactus' backfield and getting off the field on third downs to avoid being worn down.