Sabino vs ACP

Sabino senior running back Kenneth Blackman stretches for a touchdown against Arizona College Prep in Chandler on opening night for 3A football teams.

Arizona College Prep’s first-ever home game on its new campus came with a celebration before kickoff.

The team ran through an inflatable tunnel with their logo for the first time. The Knight head, a staple logo for the school, was front-and-center on the 50-yard line. Parachuters were deployed 4,500-feet above the stadium to present the game ball.

But when the pre-game festivities came to an end, it was Sabino who did all the celebrating. A stingy defense led by senior Levi Miranda led the way as the Sabercats opened the 2021 season with a 28-6 rout of Arizona College Prep, spoiling the Knights’ historic night.

“The score doesn’t reflect it, but my boys left all their heart out there,” Arizona College Prep coach Myron Blueford said. “I loved they got to have this experience on their home field. We just couldn’t execute against a good Sabino team, and they are good. We are pretty sure we will see them in the 16 come playoff time.”

ACP’s new campus, and specifically the football stadium and locker room, is something Blueford dreamed about when he was hired to build the program four years ago. When it was initially complete, he couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that his team finally had a home.

He used those same thoughts to harbor his emotions Friday night ahead of his team’s season opener against Sabino. He zeroed in on the excitement of his players to open the season on their home field. It was a special moment for the players to run out onto the field for the first time.

“It felt so surreal,” said junior running back Biruk Stephens, who rushed 20 times for 95 yards in the loss. “I never realized that in just a year everything could change and now we can enjoy the success we had last year in this stadium. It’s awesome.”

Stephens’ patience out of the backfield allowed his offensive line to develop a rhythm against Sabino’s stout defensive line, especially in the second half.

Blueford compared Stephens to NFL tailback Le’Veon Bell, as he routinely allowed the play to develop and his offensive line to get to their respective assignments. Especially in the second half, ACP found success running between the tackles. But as the deficit grew the Knights quickly had to resort back to the passing game, which struggled up until the final drive of the game when junior quarterback Jayden Diaz connected with sophomore wideout Jake Busot for a 7-yard touchdown as time expired.

Diaz finished 12-of-23 for 89 yards, the one touchdown and two interceptions. He also had a fumble, one of two total for the Knights. He was visibly upset after the game.

“He just wants to be good so bad,” Blueford said. “He puts everything into this, and he knows what it means to be a quarterback in this district. It’s his first game and he has to realize he won’t win them all. He wants to be the guy. It hurst him to lose. But that’s the type of guy you want leading your offense.”

ACP’s defense held its own throughout the first half and most of the second against a talented Sabino offense.

The Sabercats found the end zone early in the first half thanks to a 6-yard plunge by senior running back Kenneth Blackman. It was the first of two total touchdowns on the night for Blackman, who had 31 rushing yards and 108 receiving yards. His second touchdown came on a halfback screen from sophomore quarterback Cameron Hackworth he took 33 yards for the score.

Hackworth, who had just five pass attempts last season in Sabino’s two games, threw for another touchdown — a 15-yard pass to Derek Sanchez — and ran another in from 6 yards out. He finished 15-of-22 for 254 yards, the three scores, and an interception in his first varsity start.

“None of what Sabino did surprised us,” Blueford said. “They are well coached, and they executed better than we did. We knew we could match them, which is what showed in the first half, but we just have to put the ball in the end zone.”

ACP was without senior wideout and defensive back Bryce Chen, who was out with a sprained ankle. Other injuries throughout the game plagued the Knights. However, Blueford doesn’t use that as an excuse.

He knows what his team is capable of — he believes it’s the most talented team he’s had. Now, it’s about putting it all together. While a non-factor on the scoreboard, the final touchdown is something the team can build on heading into next week’s matchup against at River Valley.

“We played sloppy,” Stephens said. “But those are things we can work on that are minor that can set us up to be a successful team going forward.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira

 

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