Up 13-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Saguaro needed a shift to put the game out of reach for American Leadership Academy — Queen Creek.
There to provide it was senior quarterback Ridge Docekal.
Dropping back and scanning the field, Docekal stepped up into the pocket and fired a pass downfield into the hands of sophomore wide receiver Jaci Dickinson, who raced 48 yards into the end zone.
“That was a huge play, definitely a momentum changer,” Docekal said. “It was a close game. They just scored and I think that really gave us that spark.”
The Sabercats never trailed in their 20-14 win over the Patriots. Yet the victory followed a vastly different narrative from last week’s 63-0 contest against McClintock.
Saguaro was missing a few key contributors, according to coach Jason Mohns. He added that the team suffered penalties — which stunted first half drives — and missed opportunities that could have turned into touchdowns, such as Docekal’s pass down the left sideline that was dropped in the final seconds of the first half. Additionally, the Sabercats had a few bad snaps, one of which Docekal fumbled, but recovered.
Yet in the final 24 minutes, the Sabercats showcased the playmaking and skill that has the squad as a contender to make it back to the Open Division Championship. Docekal demonstrated poise in the pocket by throwing for nearly 180 yards and one touchdown, while senior running back/wide receiver Javen Jacobs rattled off crucial gains to create scoring opportunities. He finished with more than 100 receiving yards and nearly 20 rushing yards and a touchdown.
“I told them at halftime, ‘If we just settle down and stop hurting ourself, that we would take control of the game,’” Mohns said. “And we did that in flashes, but we never sustained it and we just let those dudes hang around. When we let them hang around, they got more confident and then they gave us everything they got. We just never found the urgency we needed.”
“Hopefully that’s a good wake-up call because if we don't get better real soon, we got some other good teams coming and they’ll put it on us if we don’t figure it out.”
American Leadership Academy came out fast by stifling Saguaro’s fourth-down attempt — an outside run by Jacobs — during its opening possession. However, senior cornerback Ivan Martin stunted the Patriots’ momentum by intercepting quarterback Logan Hubler during the next series.
The following drive, Jacobs racked up two catches for 39 yards to lead his team to the red zone. His three-yard touchdown run from the Wildcat formation was the first score of the night.
He later returned a punt to the 47-yard line. Mohns said American Leadership Academy kicked away from the playmaker because Jacobs racked up 144 punt return yards against McClintock.
However, penalties of roughing the passer, delay of game and personal fouls impacted the ball getting back into the hands of Hubler and his offense. Eventually, Hubler — who finished the game with nearly 150 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception — found senior wide receiver Elijah Peters for a 34-yard touchdown at the end of the second quarter to tie the game at seven.
“We could not get out of our way in the first half,” Mohns said. “I told our guys, ‘They’re a good football team.’ Everything that we saw on film showed us they were a good team. I tried to tell our guys that, but I feel like they underestimated them.”
The Patriots drove deep into Sabercats territory on their opening drive of the second half, but a pass breakup on fourth down got Saguaro the exact thing they needed: momentum.
Jacobs took a pass 34 yards down the sideline and then ran 14 yards on fourth down in the red zone, which led to senior running back Bryan Bogardus’ three-yard touchdown run.
“I would say I set us up to score tonight,” Jacobs said. “I do what I can do with the ball. They didn’t want to kick me the ball on punt return or kick return, so the opportunities I had on offense, I had to make it work.”
The defense stepped up to stop Hubler, which gave Docekal the opportunity for his long touchdown throw. Eventually, Hubler found junior wide receiver Drake Cluff with three minutes left in the game, but Saguaro’s rushing attack — composed of Jacobs, sophomore running back Jaedon Matthews (10 carries) and Bogardus — helped ice the game for the black-and-gold.
Playing in front of a packed stadium and student section in Scottsdale, Mohns said it was great to be back with fans under the lights. Before the game, the Sabercats honored first responders and military personnel one day before the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
As Saguaro prepares for next week’s game against rival Chaparral High School, Jacobs knows the importance of his team being ready to play with energy and at its highest potential.
For Docekal, the close win against American Leadership Academy showcased what the Sabercats need to do to be successful in the future.
“We just got to make sure that we’re being humble and getting after every snap and playing as physical as we can.”