FLORENCE - San Tan Foothills had six sacks all for huge losses and kept Florence from scoring a touchdown in leading the Sabercats to a 12-3 win in the season opener Friday.
"We put seven to 11 (kids) at the ball and have worked hard on defensive pursuit. We feel we will be the best in the state at it, our defense kept them out of the end zone," San Tan Foothills coach Rodger Schenks said.
The Sabercats (1-0) had three straight blowout losses to end last year, including a rout to Yuma Catholic in the first round of the playoffs to finish with a 5-5 record. Now many of those who played as a freshman and sophomores are back with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. The Sabercats are in a new Section VI, away from some of the stronger Division V schools.
"The kids had that sick feeling the way it ended and were excited to be back on the field," Schenks said. "We have a young team but with some experience, the next two years should be fun. "We made some first game jitters mistakes, but we have worked hard on mentally responding to them."
The game began on time, but after four plays from scrimmage, a 70-minute storm delay arrived.
Despite the hour-plus of loitering, it didn't take long for San Tan Foothills to get on the scoreboard. The Sabercats' Saige Waxter intercepted a pass at the Gophers' 40-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Juan Lopez kept the drive alive with a key first down on third-and-3. Lopez then went to the air, and his pass tipped off Dominick Kelly and into the hands of Garrett Baer for a 30 yard touchdown for a 6-0 lead with 5:59 left in the opening quarter.
"I was going to Kelly and the ball slipped out of my hand some, and the ball went a little high, so I am glad Garrett (Baer) made the catch and it worked out well," Lopez said.
Later in the first quarter, Lorenzo Verdugo came up with a 13-yard sack for the Sabercats that pushed Florence back as a 33-yard field goal was just short. The Gophers had driven from their own 2-yard line only to come up empty.
The Gophers Pierre Weir did boot a 23-yard field goal right before half as San Tan Foothills clung to a 6-3 lead at intermission.
As the Sabercats' defense continued to shut down Florence. And Lopez gave Foothills some breathing room as he had a 34 yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper padding the score to 12-3 with 10:52 left in the game. The 80 yard, six play drive all came with rushing from Lopez and running back Ricky Wilson.
Two more big sacks late in the game sparked the Sabercats and Ryan Tipton picked off a pass as a clincher. San Tan on the last play of the game ran back a fumble 60 yards but it was wiped out on a facemask penalty.
San Tan Foothills 12, Florence 3
San Tan Foothills 6 0 0 6 - 12
Florence 0 3 0 0 - 3
First Downs: STF 9, Florence 11
Rushing: STF 36-142, Florence 27-51
Passing (Comp-Att-Yards-TD-Int): STF 3-5-34-1-0, Florence 11-22-87-0-2
Fumbles-Lost: STF 3-1, Florence 4-2
Penalties-Yards: STV 8-70, Florence 5-40
STF: Garrett Baer 30 yard pass from Juan Lopez (run failed)
F: Pierre Weir 23 yard field goal
STF: Lopez 34 yard run (pass failed)