An angered Sahuaro coach Scott McKee pulled all of his players to the field and into a huddle Friday night with less than 5 minutes remaining in the game and his team well ahead of rival Sabino by four touchdowns.
The Cougars were flagged for a personal foul penalty and McKee wanted nothing of that as he called timeout, stepped about five yards on to the field, and looked at the sideline at his players with an intense look on his face.
“All units out here! Now!” he yelled.
Sahuaro’s Scott McKee coaches through every situation, stressing discipline from his team after it beat Sabino 47-13 to go to 3-0. He calls his team “blue collar” which is apparent with a strong running attack and a D that has yet to allow a rushing TD yet this season. pic.twitter.com/SuLWo82ESr
During the talk with his players the word, “Discipline,” was heard loud and clear.
After the game, Sahuaro coaches made certain that no trash talking was said and that nobody took to Twitter to brag about the 47-13 win over rival Sabino at the Cougars’ field. Suspensions would result for any violators.
This was 1970’s football played by Sahuaro, hard-nosed and no-nonsense without the spread offenses and the inflammatory postgame social media posts — a fitting way to honor Sahuaro great Rick Botkin in the 41st Annual Rick Botkin Memorial Game in front of an overflow crowd at Sahuaro. Botkin, a star quarterback and defensive back for the Cougars, died tragically in a car accident in 1977.
“The first thing is we have to honor the Botkin family and the loss that wonderful family had,” said McKee after the game when asked about what it means to beat the neighborhood rival Sabercats. “The Botkins are first class. We told our kids we just want to go out and play good hard football and represent them the way that their son played at the school.”
A ceremony with Botkin’s family — including his brother Steve Botkin, Sahuaro’s athletic director and girls basketball coach — and some of Rick’s former teammates was held before the game on the field.
“It was everything,” said Sahuaro senior safety Calen McFarland, who had a pick-6 and a fumble recovery in the victory. “We had everybody supporting us. It was us against everyone.”
Sahuaro’s ground game was again impressive with 376 yards on 34 carries after amassing 420 yards last week in a 26-8 win at Buena. Fearless runner Izaiah Davis (177 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns) was one of four backs with more than 50 yards on the ground. He has the size (6-foot and 190 pounds), speed and cutting ability to be a Division I prospect.
“Coach McKee loves the run. He likes to ground and pound and work really hard and beat people up off the ball, so yeah, we have a lot of good runners who can do some amazing things with the ball,” Davis said.
Sabino coach Ryan McBrayer and his team saw how physical Davis and Sahuaro running backs are on film entering the game, and the Sabercats were unable to stop the attack.
Izaiah Davis indeed is a college football prospect. His 177 yards on 20 rushes against a good Sabino defense gives him already 542 yards on 55 rushes through Sahuaro’s first three unbeaten games. pic.twitter.com/ZExu02kXkN
“We saw these guys break all these tackles. We knew we had to tackle well, and unfortunately tonight we did not,” McBrayer said. “So that’s one thing where we need to get a lot better at because we’re going to see plenty of good running backs throughout this season. We have to tackle a lot better than we did. That’s another thing to check off that we need to work on.”
The staple of Sahuaro backs includes bruising runner Trevion Watkins (69 yards on seven carries with two touchdowns), Jamir Gasaway (who resembles Davis) with 66 yards on three carries (including a 61-yard run to the end zone on Sahuaro’s first offensive play of the game) and Jordan Bunting with two rushes for 55 yards.
The Cougars’ physical offensive line — that includes seniors Trevor and Travis Armstrong, Michael Don, junior Thomas Cullop and senior tight end Tobias Barger — is carrying the load up front while McKee’s bevy of backs produce chunks of yards. Sahuaro had 11 runs of at least 10 yards.
“These are blue-collar kids in a blue-collar organization,” said McKee, who is 64-48 in his 11th season at Sahuaro and has 76 wins overall in his career.
Spoken like a true Dick Tomey disciple who earned a scholarship at Arizona playing for Tomey after walking on following a stellar career at Sabino.
“When in doubt, I trust how our kids are physically,” McKee continued.
“We’re just going to continue to get better and better because we have good attitude in that locker room and good leadership.”
One of the Sahuaro’s leaders from last year — running back/linebacker Cameron Williams — is now playing JC ball at Bakersfield, Calif. Davis bided his time behind Williams (who had 205 yards rushing against Sabino last year in a 34-7 win) and is seizing the opportunity now to be Sahuaro’s featured back and a senior captain.
Davis already has 542 yards on 55 rushes through Sahuaro’s first three games.
“I learned a lot from Cam,” Davis said. “I got injured halfway through, so yeah, I really was just watching and trying to become better mentally and then when I got back on the field, I tried to be prepared physically and just really working.”
Sahuaro safety Calen McFarland symbolic of the Cougars’ tough defense to this point of the season. Sahuaro has yet to allow a rushing TD through its first three games. McFarland had a pick-6 and recovered a fumble in the 47-13 win over rival Sabino. pic.twitter.com/LHh8hQKACR
Sahuaro’s defense against the run is equally impressive as its rushing attack.
The opponent’s rushing totals through the first three games:
Vista Grande — 17 rushes for 11 yards.
Buena — 21 carries for 68 yards.
Sabino — 32 rushes for 107 yards.
That’s a total of only 186 yards on 70 carries (an average of only 2.6 yards a carry and 62 yards a game). The stout defense, led by the likes of McFarland, linebackers Watkins and Miguel Yslas (both juniors), junior defensive end Anthony Hogan and senior defensive tackle Armando Ramos, has not allowed a rushing touchdown through the first three games.
Sahuaro has outscored its opponents 128-21.
“Our defense locks down,” McFarland said. “We had to stop (Sabino’s quarterback A.J. Skaggs). We knew that he was going to be a threat and we had to stop him.
“Our defensive tackles have a chemistry that is like no other and they shut that (Sabino’s running game) down pretty good.”
Skaggs, a junior, managed to complete 13 of 21 passes for 124 yards with two touchdowns and the interception that resulted in McFarland’s 37-yard return for the score. Sabino tried to create running opportunities for senior Andrew Owen but it took the hard-nosed runner 22 times to rush for 62 yards.
Last season, after the loss to Sahuaro, Sabino rebounded to win 10 straight games to reach the 3A state semifinal round. McBrayer is counting on the leadership of Skaggs and senior defensive end/tight end Jayson Petty to bring back positive vibes for the team after Friday night’s loss.
“We have good teams coming up, so it’s not like we have a little cupcake schedule after this,” McBrayer said, noting games against Catalina Foothills (1-2) next week followed by games with Lakeside Blue Ridge (3-0) and Phoenix Benjamin Franklin (3-0).
“It’s learning on the fly or otherwise you’re sinking yourself into a deep hole. We’ll get guys to step up, make some plays, get better and we’ll see where this season ends up.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.