TUCSON — In the (shortened) week leading up to the Division III state finals, Queen Creek's players and coaches spoke at length about needing to avoid getting in a shootout with Saguaro if the Bulldogs wanted to repeat as champions.
But all those hopes were dashed midway through the first quarter, and No. 4 Queen Creek wasn't able to keep pace with No. 2 Saguaro, falling 47-25 to five Saguaro its third state title in four seasons, this time at University of Arizona stadium.
“We didn't do what we needed to do to be successful,” said Queen Creek coach Travis Schureman said. “You can't not score when you have to score in a game like this.”
The run game that piloted Queen Creek (11-3) back to the title game was a dud on its first two possessions, both-three-and-outs, while Saguaro (13-1) scored on each of its first five drives with a blend of Luke Rubenzer passing (and running) and a rushing attack that leaned heavily on Christian Kirk.
Kirk, primarily a receiver who had only carried the ball 59 times in 13 games, finished with 156 yards on 18 carries. He scored twice on the ground and added two receiving TDs, finishing with 257 yards of total offense.
“We said all week we were going to take what they gave us, and today that was to run the ball,” said Rubenzer, who with a fourth-quarter TD pass to Cameron Koutsalas set the state record for TD passes in a season at 61. Rubenzer finished the game 19 of 28 for 246 yards and three TDs, and rushed for 81 yards and a score.
“People will talk about his stats, people will talk about his numbers, but he's a fiery competitor,” Saguaro coach Jason Mohns said of Rubenzer, who finished the year with 5,444 yards of total offense and 71 total TDs.
Mohns showed off some of his own moves right after the game when, while being interviewed by Fox Sports Arizona, he pulled over girlfriend Sara Cooper and proposed to her on camera. She said yes.
“She's been very patient with me, especially during football season,” he said.
Despite the margin of victory, Queen Creek was never really out of the game despite sticking to its run game. Down 13-0 after just seven minutes of play, the Bulldogs kept it on the ground and scored on their next two drives (with Saguaro adding a TD in between) to trail 20-12 midway through the first half.
Saguaro scored two plays later on a 54-yard Kirk TD run to extend to 26-12, then Queen Creek junior Weston Barlow — who rushed for 184 yards and two TDs — fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
Four snaps later, Rubenzer hit Kirk on a 30-yard TD for a 33-14 lead.
“There were a few things that we probably would have liked to do better,” Barlow said. “I'm just proud of these guys, though.”
Queen Creek pulled to within 33-19 at halftime, then held Saguaro to start the second half. But after failing to gain a first down on their first possession, the Bulldogs punted it away, and Saguaro upped its lead to 40-19 on a Rubenzer 2-yard run with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs got a 2-yard run from Matt Guida to get to 40-25 late in the third quarter, then forced a Sabercats punt to keep the game in doubt. But Bryce Dobbs was intercepted on Queen Creek's next possession, with Saguaro scoring a few plays later to ice the game.
“We just struggled making plays when we needed to make plays,” Schureman said. “You can't not score in a game like this when you have to score.”
Saguaro 47, Queen Creek 25
First Downs: QC 11, SAG 21
Rushing: QC 31-191, SAG 43-271
Passing: QC 6-8-90-1-0, SAG 19-26-246-3-0
Fumbles-lost: QC 1-1, SAG 0-0
Penalties-yards: QC 1-5, SAG 4-50
Queen Creek 6 13 6 0 -- 25
Saguaro 13 20 7 7 -- 47
SAG — Christian Kirk 38 pass form Luke Rubenzer (Matthew Rosedale kick)
SAG — Kirk 6 run (kick failed)
QC — Matt Guida 8 run (kick failed)
SAG — Isaiah Reece 10 run (Rosedale kick)
QC — Weston Barlow 3 run (run failed)
SAG — Kirk 54 run (kick failed)
SAG — Kirk 30 pass from Rubenzer (Rosedale kick)
QC — Barlow 66 run (Layne Roshay kick)
SAG — Rubenzer 2 run (Rosedale kick)
QC — Guida 2 run (kick failed)
SAG — Cameron Koutsalas 25 pass from Rubenzer (Rosedale kick)