4A state preview: Saguaro eyes history against Salpointe Catholic

Saguaro quarterback Max Massingale stiff arms a Peoria defender during the Sabercats’ 56–7 win over the Panthers in the quarterfinals of the 4A playoffs. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

History is within the grasp of Saguaro High School football, but while the chance to make history has invoked excitement for the Sabercats, it is not the focus heading into the weekend.

The No. 2 Sabercats come into the noon Saturday, Dec. 2 4A state championship game riding a four-year winning streak in state games. Winning a fifth consecutive title would be a historical accomplishment in Arizona.

However, to get to that magic number, Saguaro will have to go through a No. 4 Salpointe Catholic High School team that knocked off top-seeded Sunrise Mountain High School in the semifinals.

While there is a chance to make Arizona history, Saguaro Head Coach Jason Mohns said there is excitement, but it’s not the team’s main focus.

“We’re not thinking about that, we’re thinking about winning one more game and everything we need to do to win that game,” he said in a Nov. 30 interview.

The big matchup Coach Mohns said he thinks will be interesting to watch will be Salpointe’s offensive line and running game against Saguaro’s stifling defense.

The Saguaro defense brings down Sunrise Mountain running back Derick Bangle (35) during the Sabercats’ Sept. 22 victory. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Coach Mohns said the Lancers have a big and physical offensive line that open up holes for two solid running backs.

Sophomore running back Bijan Robinson lead the ground attack for Salpointe with 1,859 yards on 165 carries for 26 touchdowns.

Coach Mohns also said running back Mario Padilla can also catch fire in the running attack. Padilla has accumulated 758 yards on 85 carries for 13 touchdowns.

In the semifinal matchup, Robinson and Padilla combined for just over 500 rushing yards and four of the team’s five rushing touchdowns.

“Robinson is a special player,” Coach Mohns said. “Padilla — who is their second back, lines up in the slot and runs the wildcat — is a really dynamic kid. A jitterbug that makes lots of plays and can do a lot of different things to hurt you.”

The offensive line and running backs will have to face a Saguaro defense that is allowing about 15 points per game and posted three shutouts.

On top of that, the team’s top two tacklers, linebackers Clayton Randall and Connor Soelle, both have over 100 tackles this season.

Five Sabercat defenders have double-digit tackles for loss while 10 have made an interception with Soelle leading the way with five. As a team, Saguaro has made 18 interceptions this year.

“Our defense has been phenomenal all year long,” Coach Mohns said. “We’ve got great team speed. We’re young and willing.”

Coach Mohns said he is expecting a physical Salpointe defense that works soundly as a team. Three Lancers have double-digit tackles for loss with athlete Gabe Madril leads with 20.

Linebacker Chris Aguirre leads the team in tackles while averaging almost 11 tackles per game.

In order to find success against that defense, Coach Mohns said his team is going to need to increase its physicality because the Lancers don’t make many mistakes.

To do that, quarterback Max Massingale said the Sabercats needed to get in that playing physical mindset and use it.

“You practice with that physicality, that intensity and that preparation comes all week long,” he said in a Nov. 30 interview.

Massingale said he thinks the team has done a good job at practicing like it wants to play in regards to physicality.

Saguaro quarterback Max Massingale throws the ball during the Sabercats’ 56–7 win over the Panthers in the quarterfinals of the 4A playoffs. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Down in Tucson, Salpointe Catholic Head Coach Dennis Bene said there’s not one aspect that stands out to him because Saguaro is talented across the board.

“They have the most talented offense we’ve seen all year,” he said in a Nov. 29 emailed response to questions. “Our challenge is to make it as difficult as possible for them to score.”

Coach Bene said Massingale in particular poises a big threat because of his multi-weapon arsenal as a quarterback.

This season, Massingale fired off 3,114 yards on 189 completions for 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. This works out to an average of 16.5 yards per completion.

The majority of those yards go to receivers Logan Pettijohn and Zach Wilson, both with more than 1,000 receiving yards each as well as 14 and 10 touchdowns, respectively.

To make Massingale more of a threat, he has rushed for 623 yards on 104 carries for eight touchdowns. Running backs Josiah Bradley and La’Ray Lucas also chip in to the running game with 11 and 10 touchdowns respectively.

“I like my team because they play hard,” Coach Bene said. “We don’t have the talent Saguaro has but we will hit and tackle. Is that enough? I’m not sure. We have to be perfect or we have no chance.”

Over the past 12 seasons, it has become rare when Saguaro is not in the state championship.

This team has a chance to make history but it will rely on a younger roster to do so. The offense features many seniors, but the defense has a lot of younger players.

Coach Mohns said the seniors embraced the younger players and helped them integrate into the starting units.

“That’s what I’m the most proud of,” he said. “The older guys have embraced the younger guys and the way the young guys have elevated their game to rise to the occasion.”

While the Sabercats can make history Saturday, Dec. 2 where players from the past four state championship teams can be apart of, Coach Mohns said it would mean a lot to the seniors.

“Ultimately, these kids want to win this game because, these seniors, it’s their senior year and they want to go out on top,” he said.

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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