Chaparral, Saguaro reignite football rivalry after four-year hiatus

Pictured left: Saguaro Quarterback Tyler Beverett. (Photo Courtesy of Donna Munday). Pictured right: Chaparral running back Darvon Hubbard. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

A heated rivalry has spent the last four years simmering but come Friday, Sept. 14, that rivalry will have a chance to reignite albeit with a mostly new cast.

Saguaro (3-1) and Chaparral (3-0) high schools both sit in the heart of Scottsdale Unified School District separated by about 10 minutes and share a border along Northern Avenue, Mockingbird Lane and Via de Ventura. Furthermore, both schools have had their own share of success in football.

It’s been four years since Saguaro and Chaparral have played each other. This means the entirety of both rosters, as well as many coaches, have not played in the once fabled rivalry game.

But Saguaro Head Coach Jason Mohns, who’s been with the Sabercats for 13 years in various coaching capacities, said he remembers how the rivalry used to be between the two schools.

“It was probably the most heated, hated rivalry in the state of Arizona,” Coach Mohns said. “There’s no love loss between the programs.”

Desert Mountain receiver Vince Ellison tries to advance the ball as Jayden Swink closes in during the Sabercats’ 59-28 win over Desert Mountain. (Photo Courtesy of Donna Munday)

A point of tensions between the two schools, Coach Mohns said, was the two previous head coaches: Saguaro’s John Sanders and Chaparral’s Charlie Ragle. Both coaches weren’t afraid to make public comment about their disdain for each other and the opposing program.

The rivalry evolved to parents sending anonymous letters to the other school and coaches talking trash on social media, which Coach Mohns said took away from the fun of the game.

“It became about everything but football, which is probably why the hiatus was probably a good thing just to let some of those old, bad blood things die down a little bit,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, we don’t like them and they don’t like us, and there’s a lot of pride and there’s a lot of people in the community that care about this game, it’s important to them. But I think a lot of the extracurricular stuff is gone and it’s just going to be about the football game.”

The last time the two school played each other Chaparral junior Tommy Christakos was in seventh grade, but he remembers attending the Chaparral-Saguaro game.

What stood out to him was the crowd and atmosphere of the game, saying it gave him goosebumps. He said he couldn’t imagine playing in that environment at the time and is thrilled to get the chance.

Many of the players who will play in the rivalry games have only memories of attending previous games between the two schools. That hasn’t hindered the excitement from players on both sides since the schedule was released.

“I think it’s really exciting for a lot of us because the rivalry has been gone for a couple of years and it’s back this year,” Saguaro senior Connor Soelle said. “For us, we all just want to make a statement and let (Chaparral) know we’re here just in case they start scheduling rivalries in the next upcoming seasons.”

Not only are these players close in proximity but many played on the same youth football team. Christakos, for example, played on the Scottsdale Argonauts under Evan Kirk, Arizona Cardinals and former Saguaro receiver Christian Kirk’s father.

Christakos said playing against former teammates adds to the level of competition and excitement of the game.

“We’re rivals but I’m not trying to injure them or take out their knees or whatever because I wish the best for them because we used to play on the same team,” Christakos said.

Chaparral quarterback Jack Miller (1) keeps the ball on a run while Desert Mountain’s Henry Powers (31) and Aidan Storm (44) pursue during Chaparral’s 35-16 win over Desert Mountain. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Chaparral Head Coach Brent Barnes may be new to the Firebirds’ program but he is no stranger to rivalry games, including this one.

His previous stint in Norman, Okla. saw his team at Norman North High School play Norman High School last year at the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium where the University of Oklahoma plays.

As for Chaparral-Saguaro, Coach Barnes said he’s paid attention to the rivalry from afar and is interested to see what direction it will take.

“It’s just now resurfacing,” he said. “It’s not like it feels any different to anybody because it’s just renewing so I don’t think anybody knows (what to expect) but the excitement’s there.”

Coach Barnes says he expects a passionate game on both sides but also expects both teams to return to their respective seasons after it is over. Saguaro is hunting for its sixth consecutive state title and Chaparral is looking to make a splash in 6A.

“My message to our guys is to enjoy the event, enjoy what it is,” he said. “It’s cool to be a part of those things. Not everyone gets to be a part of something that’s talked about as much as it is and has as much publicity as it has. You’re fortunate to be able to be part of that so enjoy it but ultimately it’s still just a game.”

At the end of the day, both teams are playing for bragging rights. Coach Barnes said a win against Saguaro, a high quality opponent, would be a “good step forward” for his young program but it wouldn’t define the team as there is a lot of football left to play.

Ten minutes away, Coach Mohns said winning this game isn’t necessarily about making a statement but rather winning a game that is important to the community and leaving their mark on a big rivalry.

Whether the playing of the game will continue — Coach Mohns said it is on the docket for next year — is still undetermined, both sides hope to keep the rivalry going.

Coach Mohns — who experiences the rivalry in his own household as his wife is a Chaparral graduate — said even though playing in this rivalry is new to some, its legacy will continue to permeate in the community.

“People know about the Saguaro-Chaparral rivalry and if they didn’t know about it, they’ve heard about it whether that’s from us or our kids or our teachers or other community or other parents, people talk about it,” Coach Mohns said.

“It doesn’t take long here at Saguaro to find out what the rivalry is all about and what it means to people.”

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

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