QUEEN CREEK — It was an uncharacteristic night for the No. 6 Sabino Sabercats on Friday in their 56-19 road loss to the No. 3 Eastmark Firebirds. A slow start in the first quarter plagued the Sabercats early, and mistakes only continued to deepen the battle wounds.
“We knew they were big, we knew they were physical, we knew they were fast, and they just played a great game,” Sabino coach Ryan McBrayer said. “We got embarrassed and are licking our wounds. We’ve got to get back together as a team and realize we can’t come out the way we did.”
Things began in favor of the Firebirds from the coin toss, which they won and elected to receive to start the game. It took the Firebirds less than three minutes to drive down the field and score to open the game, punching it across the goal line on a 2-yard quarterback keeper by senior Mack Molander. The PAT was good, giving the Firebirds a 7-0 lead.
On Sabino’s opening drive, things seemed to be going well at first until a pass from Cameron Hackworth was intercepted by senior Daunte Debbs and returned to the 32-yard line. Capitalizing on the field position, Eastmark was able to move the ball into the end zone once again, capping things off with a 4-yard run from junior Coleman Samples.
With another good extra point, Eastmark was suddenly leading 14-0 with 4:42 remaining in the first, dialing up the pressure for Sabino for the remainder of the game.
Sabino’s following possession resulted in a quick three-and-out, forcing the Sabercats to once again punt the ball away.
NO. 7 SABINO (8-3)Sabercats compete in the 3A South. *Region game. +3A state playoffs. Games at 7 p.m.
|9/2||@ ALA-West Foothills||W, 47-27||2-0|
|9/16||@ Palo Verde*||W, 55-6||4-0|
|9/30||@ Pusch Ridge*||L, 41-20||5-1|
|10/7||Sequoia Pathway||W, 73-40||6-1|
|10/14||@ Eastmark||L, 56-19||6-2|
|10/21||@ Thatcher*||L, 35-7||6-3|
|11/4||San Tan Foothills+||W, 49-23||8-3|
In just three snaps, the Firebirds were able to reach the end zone again, this time on a 21-yard pass from Molander to senior Wyatt Mullenaux. Once again the kick was good, pushing Eastmark to a 21-0 lead with 2:32 left in the first quarter.
Sabino’s following possession started out much better than the previous two, with two explosive plays to get things going. However, a sack on the following snap followed by back-to-back incomplete passes set up the Sabercats for a fourth-and-13 from the Eastmark 43.
After calling a timeout, Sabino decided to go for it, but unfortunately came up about four yards short of the line, resulting in a turnover on downs with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
Eastmark’s following possession stretched into the second quarter, when it was able to cap off the drive with a 4-yard quarterback keeper to extend the lead further. With 10:44 left before the half, the PAT was good to make it 28-0 Eastmark.
Determined to get on the board, it only took one snap for junior Mason Cade to take it to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown run. The kick was good, and just like that, the Sabercats had some life within them once again as it was now 28-7 with 10:31 left before the half.
Deciding to switch things up early, Sabino went for an onside kick and was able to recover it thanks to sophomore Shamar Berryhill. Unfortunately, Sabino wasn’t able to capitalize on the possession, with a number of flags and incomplete passes ultimately resulting in a turnover on downs at the Eastmark 34-yard line with 8:16 left until halftime.
Chewing up a large amount of time left on the clock, Eastmark was able to strategically advance down the field yet again, with Sample taking the ball across for a 10-yard touchdown to finish the drive. The PAT was good once again, putting Spencer Elzinga at 5 for 5 on the night so far as the Firebirds took a 35-7 lead with 2:58 left before the half.
Under pressure, Sabino was able to get into the red zone with just under a minute remaining before the half, but another interception by Hackworth in the end zone resulted in a turnover with just 15 seconds left before the half.
With just one play, Molander was able to find an open receiver in senior Austin Johnston, who took it 80 yards for one final touchdown as the buzzer sounded to indicate the half. The kick was good, giving Eastmark a 42-7 lead going into the break.
“We just had some miscommunication there,” McBrayer said about the interceptions. “When you’re slightly off against a very good team, those things happen. But some of those mistakes were just him trying to do a little bit too much.”
Sabino received the ball to start the second half, but the struggles continued when Hackworth was once again picked off, this time by junior Daylan Chichester near midfield. Defensively, the Sabercats were able to make some adjustments and finally stop the Firebirds, forcing them to settle for a field goal attempt which was too wide and resulted in a turnover.
On Sabino’s following possession, the Sabercats were able to find success by attacking the ground. With five snaps, Sabino was able to add another touchdown on the board, capped off by a 64-yard touchdown run from Hackworth. The PAT was no good, leaving the score 42-13 with 2:21 left in the third.
Sabino decided to try for an onside kick once again, but this time were not as successful, giving Eastmark possession at midfield. From there, Eastmark was able to add on one more touchdown before the start of the fourth quarter to extend the lead on a 27-yard pass from Molander to junior Jaxon Bailey. The kick was good, making it 49-13.
Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any more frustrating for Sabino, a string of flags forced them to punt the ball away, which Johnston was able to return for yet another touchdown. With another good extra point, it was now 56-13 with 10:44 remaining and a running clock.
Sabino kept fighting and didn’t give up, eventually scoring on the final play of the game on a pass to senior Jeremy Gigstad to make it 56-19 and bring an end to the game.
“I’m very proud of how he responded to a ‘non-typical’ game for Cameron Hackworth,” McBrayer said. “We saw him fight until the end and make a couple big plays there with his legs and his arms.”
Following the loss, Sabino is now 6-2 with two games remaining before the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of teams around the state that would love to be 6-2,” McBrayer said. “We’re gonna just keep competing, see where we line up in the playoffs, but it doesn’t get any easier.”
Sabino now will prepare to face No. 1 Thatcher on the road next week before closing out the regular season at home on Oct. 28 against No. 11 Benson. McBrayer knows the team has their work cut out ahead of them leading into this week.
“It’s pretty clear that we’ve gotta get better,” McBrayer said. “At the end of the day, this just wasn’t our best performance. The guys know that, the coaches know that, and I didn’t coach my best game. So I’ve gotta get better as well, just like these kids. The blame is not on them, they played their hearts out for me for 48 minutes, so I’ve gotta watch film and get better myself.”