The Chaparral football team looked so dynamic on paper that it was named the Tribune’s preseason favorite to win the Division II championship.
But with three key transfer additions, a still-young quarterback and an injury to last year’s leading rusher, the Firebirds still needed to prove on the field that they deserved the accolades. It took less than a quarter for Chaparral to live up to the billing.
The Firebirds jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first 11 minutes of the contest and cruised to a 52-27 win over visiting Saguaro.
Elijah Castro, a transfer from Peoria Sunrise Mountain, carried the ball 20 times for 177 yards and four touchdowns while Israel Simpson, an addition from Hamilton, had four catches for 96 yards, including a pair of highlight-reel grabs in the first half.
“(The pair was) as advertised,” coach Dave Huffine said. “When you’re going up against your own defense you’re not always going full speed. To see them out here, it was pretty impressive.”
Quarterback Sean Paul Brophy was good as well, finishing 15-of-24 for 230 yards with a touchdown and an interception, including 180 of those yards in the first half. He platooned at the position as a sophomore last season but is the unquestioned starter now.
Chaparral led by double digits almost the entire way, although Saguaro did make it interesting for a spell. Quarterback Luke Rubenzer scored on a 22-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 31-20 with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter.
The Sabercats stopped Chaparral on a 4th-and-1 on the ensuing drive and had the ball with a chance to pull within one possession, but Rubenzer fumbled and Castro would score from 13 yards out to push the lead back to 17 early in the fourth to effectively end Saguaro’s chances.
Saguaro lost center Matt Mara to injury on the game’s fourth play and also lost starting running back/linebacker Erik Swanson very early. There were snapping problems with the new center and the injuries made it tough on an already undermanned Sabercats team.
“That first half we were shell-shocked and it took us awhile to settle in,” coach Jason Mohns said. “We made it an 11-point game at two different points, and with as much adversity we faced, I’m proud of our kids.”
Emerson Carrethers, last year’s leading rusher for Chaparral, was likely lost for the season with a torn ACL last week. However, Castro and Malcolm Thomas filled in nicely, combining for 234 rushing yards and five scores.
Tyler Whiley had 56 yards rushing and a score while Trevor Wood added 72 yards receiving. The depth and balance should be a hallmark of an offense that could be tough to contain this year.
“It's awesome to know you're not the only playmaker on the team," Castro said. "There's six more guys behind you."
Chaparral 52, Saguaro 27
First Downs: Sag 16, Chap 16
Rushing: Sag 25-79, Chap 40-292
Passing (comp.-att.-yards-TD-INT): Sag 16-37-247-3-3; Chap 15-24-230-1-1
Fumbles-lost: Sag 2-2; Chap 2-1
Penalties-yards: Sag7-48, Chap 15-121
Saguaro 0 13 7 7 -- 27
Chaparral 17 14 0 21 -- 52
Chap: Thomas 4 run, Packal kick
Chap: Castro 13 run, Packal kick
Chap: Packal 22 FG
Sag: Koutsalas 25 pass from Kirk, Tjaarda kick
Chap: Castro 14 run, Packal kick
Sag: Koutsalas 18 pass from Rubenzer, kick failed
Chap: Skeptaris 10 pass from Brophy, Packal kick
Sag: Rubenzer 22 run, Tjaarda kick
Chap: Castro 13 run, Packal kick
Chap: Castro 48 run, Packal kick
Sag: Nettleton 52 pass from Kirk, Tjaarda kick
Chap: Whiley 21 run, Packal kick