Outlook: The 2012 football season was decidedly not Saguaro-esque. The Sabercats were defeated in three regular season games and barely avoided losing a fourth. They were seeded just ninth heading into the postseason and lost to Goodyear Desert Edge in the state quarterfinals – their earliest exit since 2005.
That’s the bad news. The good? Not much is needed to put Saguaro right back on top of Division III. In reality, Saguaro was one play away from making another legitimate title run, as a last-minute fumble deep in Desert Edge’s territory helped cement the close loss.
Quarterback Luke Rubenzer, is arguably the most decorated high school player returning to an East Valley team this year, as he’s thrown for 5,388 yards and rushed for 1,466 yards in two seasons as the Sabercats signal-caller. The California commit has a plethora of options on offense, led by Christian Kirk, who will play both wide receiver and running back for the Sabercats. J.T. Nettleton had 54 catches for 916 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago for Poulsbo North Kitsap High in Washington, and transferred to Saguaro last spring. Erik Swanson will be the primary running back, Brett Adams returns as a trusted receiving option and the speedy Isaiah Bradley is another promising wideout. Alex Anderson is being recruited by BCS-level colleges and anchors the offensive line.
The big questions come on defense. Coach Jason Mohns said inexperience in the secondary was the culprit behind some poor defensive performances last season, but thinks experience and the addition of Nettleton will help shore that up. Kirk is one of the better cornerbacks in the state and will be on the field as much as possible.
Saguaro’s schedule is pretty easy after its season-opener against Chaparral but ramps up late with Queen Creek, Williams Field and Marcos de Niza.
The Sabercats took a step back last year but believe it was merely a hiccup. They’ll aim for a sixth state championship in eight years in 2013.
“Last year was not fun,” coach Jason Mohns said. “The kids have been motivated and the coaches are motivated to get back to where everybody expects to be. The goals haven’t changed at Saguaro. It’s still state championship or bust.”
Division III, Section III
Coach: Jason Mohns
Last year’s record: 8-4, lost to Desert Edge in Division III quarterfinals
Returning Starters: 7 on offense/4 on defense
Top returners: QB Luke Rubenzer (145-211, 2,834 yards, 38 TD, 6 INT; 138 rush, 1,184 yards, 10 TD); WR Christian Kirk (43 rec., 1,003 yards, 12 TD); OL Alex Anderson; WR Brett Adams (22 rec., 340 yards, 3 TD); LB Chris Counce (67 tackles).
Aug. 30 at Chaparral; Sept. 6 at South Mountain; Sept. 13 vs. Bradshaw Mountain; Sept. 20 at Apache Junction; Sept. 27 vs. McClintock; Oct. 4 vs. Queen Creek; Oct. 11 at Williams Field; Oct. 18 vs. Greenway; Oct. 25 vs. Higley; Nov. 1 at Marcos de Niza
Aug. 30 at Chaparral: The season starts off with a bang as the Sabercats face off with bitter rival Chaparral. The Firebirds have won the past two games of this rivalry (the 2011 version being the infamous contest in which Saguaro coach John Sanders sat his starters) and will likely be favored in this one. These teams aren’t in the same division any more, but they’re still two of the best programs in Arizona.
Oct. 4 vs. Queen Creek: These teams have combined to win six of the past seven championships in 4A-I/Division III, five of which have come by Saguaro. The Bulldogs went undefeated last year and return reigning Tribune Player of the Year Matt Guida, but have to replace several other pieces. The Sabercats have more talent coming back and should be the favorites in this one. The teams could meet again in the postseason.
Nov. 1 at Marcos de Niza: The season finale could be a tough matchup against perennial heavyweight Marcos de Niza. The Padres aren’t as loaded as a year ago but boast standout quarterback Josh Eckley and a tough defense. Saguaro would like to win this game to improve its playoff positioning. Last year, the Sabercats had to go on the road early and ended up losing to a talented Goodyear Desert Edge squad.