Sabino’s season ends, but memories, Hackworth’s promise ongoing

Sabino coach Ryan McBrayer embraces sophomore QB Cameron Hackworth (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

GILBERT — Cameron Hackworth’s performance against No. 1-seed American Leadership Academy-Gilbert North on Friday night is indicative of the competitiveness and fight the Sabercats showed in their eight-win season.

Hackworth was sacked seven times in the 38-7 loss in the 3A state quarterfinals, and he constantly was on the run out of the pocket trying to elude ALA-Gilbert North’s aggressive front.

The sophomore persevered each time without a flinch, taking the hits — including an Eagle linebacker horse-collaring him well into the sideline on one run — and standing firm each time.

Following a sack in Sabino’s last possession, he was on his feet, hands on hips, looking the ALA-Gilbert North linemen in the eyes.

Sabino was losing but he was not beaten.

“This is a very good learning experience — you live, you learn,” said Hackworth, who did not fumble or throw an interception despite ALA-Gilbert North’s constant pressure. “We came out here, all my seniors, we fought really hard to the end. That’s all we can say. I’m going to learn from this and come back better and stronger for next year.”

Sabino coach Ryan McBrayer customarily stands with his assistant coaches and gives high-fives and fist bumps to his players after each game.

After the season-ending loss, the Sabercats, who finished 8-3 with 18 seniors on the roster, lined up and McBrayer and his coaches hugged every single one of them.

The parents and families walked on the field to provide a mass gathering of support for some of the players who became emotional.

“(Hackworth’s) a very good football player. I’m glad we have more time with him as he continues to develop, but this night right here is about those 18 seniors and me going and loving on them,” said McBrayer, who coached his 50th game in his fifth season at his alma mater and is 38-12.

“We need to make sure they finish strong with graduation. This football season is one thing they can talk about and be excited about at reunions and everything like that. They’re going to be great fathers, start their families, find great jobs. I can’t wait to go to all those weddings and festivities because it’s an exciting group and I’m glad I got to be a little part of their lives.”

Derek Sanchez, a wideout/defensive back, is one of those seniors who was called on to play on offense and defense like many of the Sabercats. That was in stark contrast to ALA-Gilbert North’s surplus of players.

ALA-Gilbert North, which has an enrollment of more than 1,200, will be a 4A school next season. Their three teams — freshman, junior varsity and varsity — each have an excess of 50 players.

Sanchez took a quick-out pass from Hackworth at the line of scrimmage on Sabino’s third offensive play of the game and broke free from two tacklers and sprinted to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown giving the Sabercats a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

Although Sabino had a quick lead, it faced an uphill battle against a deep team that is 10-1 and does not use many two-way players.

“It felt nice coming out; I just wish we kept it continued,” said Sanchez, who finished with four receptions for 76 yards. “It was a great time playing with all the seniors. I’m going to miss it.”

The game was tied at 7 going into the second quarter and Sabino managed to drive from its 19-yard line to ALA-Gilbert North’s 25 but the Sabercats turned the ball over on downs after two sacks.

Sabino’s defense, one of its strengths this season, forced the Eagles into a three-and-out on the next possession and the Sabercats again crossed into ALA-Gilbert North’s territory before having to punt at the Eagle 39.

The Eagles took a 14-7 lead with 4:07 left in the half after quarterback Adam Damante connected with Class of 2024 prospect Brandon Phelps on a 51-yard touchdown pass.

Damante, a junior, completed 22 of 32 pass attempts for 269 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Phelps, who has been offered a scholarship by Arizona and NAU, caught five passes for 131 yards.

Brandon Phelps of ALA-Gilbert North is a recruiting target of Arizona (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucscon.com)

“I think it’s great that I got offered so early. It brings a lot of confidence to my game,” said Phelps, who wore an Arizona shirt after the game. “I just hope they keep coming in and I get an influx of offers.”

Sabino was forced to punt after Phelps’ touchdown and Damante engineered a 70-yard scoring drive culminating on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Micah Ao with only 4 seconds left before halftime, increasing the lead to 21-7.

The Eagles took the opening kickoff in the second half and started to wear down the Sabercats, driving 80 yards in 16 plays, capped by Damante’s 9-yard scoring strike to Luc Asay with 6:41 left in the third quarter.

The possession that lasted 5:19 gave ALA-Gilbert North a 28-7 lead.

Levi Miranda of Sabino brings down an ALA-Gilbert North receiver with Derek Sanchez (20) and Kenneth Blackman (6) close by (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Sabino had a three-and-out in its next possession, and the Eagles put together another scoring drive of 10 plays to put the game out of reach. Damante’s 3-yard touchdown run gave ALA-Gilbert North a 35-7 lead with 1:00 left in the third quarter.

Hackworth, who also will have a lot of colleges recruiting him in the next two seasons, tried to lift the spirit of his team on the sideline throughout the second half.

He finished with a respectable output of 15-of-22 pass completions for 138 yards while throwing to six different receivers.

“I just tried to keep my composure through everything,” Hackworth said. “Even in the pocket with rushers coming at me I kept my composure and made sure my team is good.

“The seniors got me through a lot of tough times when I was really nervous. … They keep my head right. That’s why I ride for my seniors. I love all of my seniors.”


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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