The Saguaro Sabercats go for their third consecutive state championship in Saturday’s state championship and standing in their way is a high powered Marcos de Nize Padres team who is flying high after an upset win over Skyline. This matchup is not short on talent and has the potential to be a barn burner to declare a winner.
Saguaro has been on a mission. People were seeming writing them off after losses to Centennial and Pinnacle earlier in the season. Both happen to be top ten teams in division I, one of which in the state championship game. They might be one of the best seven seeds of all time. The Cats have seen a fair share of adversity on and off the field including a myriad of injuries to key players but something has clicked with this team since the second half of their opening round matchup with Apollo and they haven’t looked back.
Marcos is really a special story that goes back further than just this season. Before Sean Morin took over the program for Roy Lopez, the Padres had a number of players transfer out of the school. Among those players were two of the elite prospects in the state in Saguaro’s Byron Murphy and Chandler’s N’Keal Harry who suited up for them as sophomores. But Morin has come in for two consecutive seasons and made the Padres a contender despite the the chaos that seemed to exist around the program with the coaching change. Here they are in year two playing for a state title.
Key Matchup: A lot to love this quarterback battle between Saguaro senior Karé Lyles and Marcos junior Naz Greer. Both can really spread it around the field, manage games and extend plays with their legs if needed. Both players play with a lot of emotion. Watching both on sidelines, they are dialed into the game and among the top emotional leaders on their respective teams. Not to mention, the stats each have posted this season are ridiculous. Greer with just under 3,000 yards passing with 21 touchdowns going into the game and Lyles with over 3200 yards passing and 39 touchdowns.
Impact players: Marcos’ senior linebacker Jacob Hernandez has had an incredible season for the Padres and is the heart and soul of the defense. As a three year starter on varsity, he has over 400 tackles combined and does a masterful job getting into the offensive backfield disrupting plays before they develop.
For Saguaro, Brandt Casey is a special leader on this team and there is without question a correlation to him being back in the lineup the last few after missing games with an injured hand, and Saguaro’s resurgence late in the season. He has Christian Kirk level leadership and is only a junior at the linebacker position. Saguaro is filled talent on both sides of the ball, but the passion Casey plays with is infectious that rubs off on every player.
Keep an Eye on: Jared Poplowski out of the tight end spot for Saguaro is a matchup nightmare. At 6-4, 220, he has a next level ability catching the ball as well as putting his hand on the ground blocking. When the Sabercats get into the red zone, he is a great weapon and has been one of the better tight ends in all of Arizona this season statistically.
At 5-8, 160 pounds, there might not be a more impactful player pound-for-pound than Padres senior running back Shaun Richards. He makes plays on the ground and out of the backfield as a receiver which is why he leads the team in total yards. It is not just on offense but on special teams too. When you combine the body of work on offense with the kick and punt return games, Richards has just under 1600 total yards on the year with 17 touchdowns. He is responsible for 104 of Marcos’ 485 points this season and is a big play waiting to happen.
Saguaro and Marcos de Niza kick off at 4pm from Arizona Stadium in Tucson on Saturday.