Saguaro beats Higley in overtime thriller advancing to 4A state championship finals

Saguaro quarterback Max Massingale (4) throws the ball downfield during the Sabercats’ 37-31 overtime victory over Higley in the 4A semifinals. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

One play is what it took to decide a state semifinal game between two 4A powerhouses who would not yield and that play belonged to Saguaro running back Josiah Bradley.

Bradley broke a tie with a nine-yard touchdown run in overtime, sending the No. 2 Saguaro High School to the 4A state championship game after a 37–31 victory over No. 3 Higley High School.

The game was at Chaparral High School, 6935 E Gold Dust Ave.

His touchdown came after Higley was unable to convert a field goal in overtime, meaning all Saguaro had to do was score to win. After the game, Bradley said it felt great to score the game-winning touchdown.

“My team needed me to make a play,” he said after the game. “That’s all I could do.”

Higley strong safety Adrian Eastman(21) tackles Saguaro running back La’Ray Lucas (3) during the Sabercats’ 37-31 overtime victory over the Knights in the 4A semifinals. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

The Sabercats will face No. 4 Salpointe Catholic High School after the Lancers toppled No. 1 Sunrise Mountain 49–27. That game will be Saturday, Dec. 2 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.

While the Sabercats did pull off the victory, Head Coach Jason Mohns said there’s still plenty of work to do before Dec. 2.

“I’m really proud of my team,” he said after the game. “That performance isn’t good enough to win a state championship but it was just good enough to get us there.”

This game featured four times the score was tied and six lead changes, most of those coming in the fourth quarter. Furthermore, both teams combined for eight turnovers including several in the final minutes of regulation to add to the drama.

Throughout the game, both sides’ crowds were loud. Higley Head Coach Eddy Zubey said his team’s crowd really added to the excitement of the game.

“It was a great electric feel out here,” Zubey said after the game. “Both sides were making big plays and it was fun to be a part of. Unfortunately, we just ended up on the wrong side.”

The first half featured both team’s defenses as at the intermission, the game was knotted at 10. Both teams combined for three first-half turnovers with two of them leading to field goals for each team.

Saguaro had a chance for another field goal off a turnover midway through the first quarter but kicker Joseph Zepp couldn’t connect.

The Sabercats came out of halftime with a six-play drive that ended with quarterback Max Massingale connecting with receiver Zach Wilson for a 27-yard score.

Higley responded with linebacker Cade Matthews picking off Massingale to set the Knights at the Saguaro nine-yard line. Five plays later, quarterback Spencer Brasch found slot back Antonio Gutierrez on a six-yard touchdown pass to tie it up again at 17.

“We just couldn’t get into a rhythm early,” Coach Mohns said. “Our defense was playing great getting stops but sooner or later when you keep turning the ball over and you give a team like Higley the extra possessions, they’re going to rip some and they did.”

In the fourth quarter, the game’s spotlight shifted from defense to offense.

Brasch connected with tight end Ty Robinson for a 27-yard touchdown. However, the officials called Higley for unsportsmanlike conduct after the score and Coach Mohns elected to have the penalty yardage applied to the point-after-touchdown attempt.

Saguaro receiver Logan Pettijohn (10) runs his route while Higley cornerback Jordan Rule (9) covers him during the Sabercats’ 37-31 overtime win over the Knights in the 4A semifinals. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

It paid dividends as kicker Dalyn Edwards missed the attempt and the Knights only led 23–17 with about nine minutes to play.

Three plays later, Massingale hit receiver Logan Pettijohn on a 54-yard screen pass touchdown and with the made PAT, Saguaro was back on top by one.

The lead was short-lived as Higley running back Draycen Hall ripped off a 69-yard score. The ensuing two-point conversion was good and the Knights led 31–24 with 7:42 to play.

Shortly after that, Bradley tied the game with a 21-yard touchdown with about six minutes to play.

Both teams had opportunities to win the game late.

Saguaro was driving but Massingale fumbled at the Higley 31. The Knights then moved the ball to the Saguaro 39, which set up a last-second throw to the endzone where Bradley came away with his second interception of the game.

“It was just one of those games, we didn’t have our best stuff,” Coach Mohns said. “We didn’t play our best game but when you’ve got the heart of a champion, you find ways to win and we found a way to win tonight.”

This was the second time these two teams played this season with the first meeting being lopsided. Saguaro won that one 42–14 on Sept. 8.

This time around, Coach Zubey said Higley developed a belief in itself, which led to the much different performance in the rematch.

He said the team had big expectations going into the season but that early loss to Saguaro showed him his team didn’t know how to respond.

“We worked on that for the next nine weeks,” he said. “We weren’t working on Saguaro, we were working on ourselves. We were working how to endure when things go wrong, how do you respond? Sometimes were good days, sometimes were bad days.”

With the tough win in hand, Coach Mohns said he hopes this game serves as a wake-up call heading into the state finals.

“We’ve got to learn and grow,” he said. “The day you stop getting better, somebody’s going to beat you so we just have to get better.”

Saguaro quarterback Max Massingale (4) tries to fend off a tackler while Higley linebacker Keith Wesley (3) forces a fumble during the Sabercats’ 37-31 overtime victory over the Knights in the 4A semifinals. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment