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CHAMPIONSHIP: Class 4A
SCORE: Cottonwood Mingus Union 23, Sabino 14
DATE: December 12, 1997
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe
GAME SUMMARY: Despite Sabino running back Nathan Wize rushing for 223 yards, the Sabercats lost their first game of the season in thes state title game, finishing 13-1 under coach Jeff Scurran.
A difference for Mingus Union (13-0-1) triumphing was limiting Wize — who rushed for more than 300 yards three times that season — to only eight yards in the fourth quarter. Wize, who played collegiately at Cincinnati, rushed for a state-record 3,101 yards and 51 touchdowns that season in 1997.
The reason for the lack of rushing late in the game: Sabino had to play catch-up, a role it was not accustomed to that season.
Mingus’ defense rose to the occasion against Scurran’s potent offense, which produced an average of 47 points a game that season.
Mingus limited talented tight end Doyal Butler (who was double-covered) to only one reception for 20 yards. He entered the game with 26 catches for 711 yards.
Sabino never led in the game and fell behind 10-7 at halftime on a 28-yard field goal by Mike Wilcox as time expired.
Mingus quarterback Ryan Stokes completed 3 of 10 passes in the game but two of them were significant in the third quarter. He connected on touchdown passes of 45 yards and 50 yards to put Mingus ahead 23-14 with 2:23 left in the period.
Sabino’s last gasp midway through the fourth quarter started after Mingus was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Sabercat 11.
A pass interference call on Mingus and a 24-yard pass from Ryan Gaines to Wize moved the ball to midfield. After three straight incompletions, Sabino was faced with fourth down. That’s when Gaines connected with Butler on his only reception of the game, that took the Sabercats to the Mingus 30.
Wilcox slammed the door for Mingus intercepting a pass in the end zone.
THEY SAID IT: “This one slipped away over a pretty long period of time. A few things went wrong early and that gave us that much more pressure and that gets you off track. You try to turn the momentum, but that’s hard to do. The kids come here and they expect to play their best. When that’s not occurring, they get really disappointed.” — Sabino coach Jeff Scurran as quoted by the Arizona Daily Star.
DID YOU KNOW: Mike Saffer, a 6-foot-6, 295-pound USA Today first-team All American offensive tackle and two-time Arizona Republic All-State selection, was a senior in 1997 who was widely considered the No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation in 1997, Saffer wore a t-shirt under his shoulder pads during the game against Mingus that proclaimed Sabino as the 1990 and 1992 state champions. Saffer listed UCLA, Southern Cal, Washington, Nebraska and Arizona State as his final college choices and he ultimately chose the Bruins. He started 41 games at UCLA and was named All-Pac 10 and a second-team All-American by Sporting News his senior year in 2002.
BOX SCORE (printed in the Tucson Citizen):