By: Jason Digos Jr.
American Leadership Academy dominated their way to their first ever AIA football state championship, knocking off perennial power Tucson Sabino 31-14 on Saturday at Chaparral High School.
ALA’s lone blemish on their record coming in to the title game was a 16-13 week 2 loss to Sabino in Tucson. In that game, the Patriots were without its senior quarterback Dallin Edwards due to an injury suffered the previous week. Despite the strong defensive effort to contain Sabino’s all-purpose star and Arizona commit Drew Dixon to just 97 yards; the offense was missing the punch from their senior leader.
Saturday night at Chaparral, the ALA defense came to play again. On the first offensive snap for Sabino, the Sabercats fumbled the handoff and ALA took over from the 3-yard line. Three plays later, it was Edwards throwing a strike to Haiden Stowers to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
After a 3-and out for Sabino on their next series, Edwards marched the Patriots down the field with ease, capping off the drive with a 27-yard post pattern to wide receiver Bujon Boyd for a 14-0 lead.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots were flat out dominant in the first half. The Pats’ defensive front applied pressure to Sabino’s quarterback and left a minimal amount of room to run. ALA’s big man, Donovan Hanna spent most of his time while on the defensive side of the ball in the Sabercats backfield, racking up 3 sacks in the first half alone. Sabino lacked rhythm, and Drew Dixon totaled only 4 touches in the first half and his team tallied just 44 yards of offense.
In the second half, ALA forced a Sabino turnover on downs to start the third quarter, and then Edwards and company marched the Patriots offense down the field for a 75-yard drive in just five plays to give ALA a commanding 21-0 lead.
The Sabercats wouldn’t go away however, despite fumbling the ensuing kickoff, Sabino’s defense kept ALA out of the end zone and just gave up a field goal. With the ball again, the ‘Cats offense finally got themselves on the board as quarterback Alex Bell hit Damen Gibson from 6 yards out to cut the lead to 24-6.
ALA would respond quickly and marched down 88 yards in five plays before the end of the third quarter, Edwards hit Kade Lunt on the go-route for 28-yards and the Pats’ took a 31-6 lead in to the fourth.
Give Sabino all the credit for not giving up on the game in the 4th, but it just seemed like it was too little too late to give the offensive keys to Dixon for a complete drive in the 4th. The senior marched the ‘Cats down to cut the deficit to 31-14 with over 8 minutes remaining. He would get the ball back again on two separate occasions in the 4th quarter late, but both drives ended with interceptions in the end zone ending all hope for a Sabino comeback.
ALA’s all around complete performance was the story of the night. Offensively, Dallin Edwards led the way completing 17-of-26 passes for 221 yards, 3 touchdowns and leading his team in rushing with 47 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The ALA defense was something special as well, holding Sabino to just 44 offensive yards in the first half, and ultimately ending any hopes of a Sabercats comeback in the second half with the two end zone interceptions each by Bujon Boyd and Kade Lunt.
It was a historical and emotional night for American Leadership Academy and Coach Rich Edwards. Edwards has been the head coach for ALA since the school opened in 2011, and after the game praised not only his team, but his team’s supporters after the game as what seemed to be the entire crowd on the home stands at Chaparral stormed the field to celebrate the school’s first AIA state championship victory.