2023 High School Football

Sabino Sabercats in position to capture first state championship since 1998

Sabino alum Ryan McBrayer will coach the Sabercats in a state championship game for the first time since becoming the head coach in 2017 (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Kevin Amidan has another opportunity to experience the feeling of being a state champion.

Amidan, in his second year as Sabino’s principal, was a right tackle and defensive end on the Sabercats’ last team to win a state championship in 1998.

He and four other Sabino players were part of three straight teams that advanced to the state championship under coach Jeff Scurran from 1997 to 1999.

Sabino’s championship in 1998, a victory over Avondale Agua Fria, was sandwiched by losses to Cottonwood Mingus in 1997 and Mesa Mountain View in 1999.

“We came so close to beating Mountain View after getting moved up from 4A to 5A, which at the time was the highest level in the state,” Amidan said Saturday night at Mesa High School before the Sabercats’ 3A semifinal game with Mohave.


A look at the Sabercats when they have played in a state championship game. The program started at the varsity level in 1974.
1990PeoriaW/31-284A14-0Jeff Scurran
1992Phoenix WashingtonW/28-34A14-0Jeff Scurran
1997Cottonwood MingusL/23-144A13-1Jeff Scurran
1998Avondale Agua FriaW/27-94A12-1-1Jeff Scurran
1999Mesa Mountain ViewL/21-145A13-1Jeff Scurran
2005Glendale CactusL/30-74AD110-4Jay Campos
2006Scottsdale SaguaroL/41-214AD112-2Jay Campos
2009Canyon del OroL/40-04AD111-3Jay Campos
2016ALA-Queen CreekL/31-143A12-2Jay Campos
2023Surprise Paradise HonorsW/68-463A11-3Ryan McBrayer

After Sabino won the title over Agua Fria in 1998 following the heartbreak of coming up short in 1997 against Mingus, Amidan was quoted by the Arizona Daily Star as saying this:

“When you want something so bad, and it gets away, you think of every play, play after play.”

Sabino, collectively, has thought of this for 25 years.

Amidan, who later coached with Scurran at Sabino and Santa Rita, observed Sabino’s 30-16 win over Mohave from the sidelines and engaged with the players and coaches on the field afterward. He was part of the huddle of players and coaches that celebrated the victory.

He can experience that championship feeling again Saturday night at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix when the fourth-seeded Sabercats (10-3) try to end their 25-year title draught when they play No. 3 Surprise Paradise Honors (11-2).

“These guys have been working for four years, putting on purple and gold from the weight room, through sweating in 7-on-7 tournaments, through the classroom … the list goes on and on,” Sabino coach Ryan McBrayer said of his 24 seniors. “I’m very, very proud of these guys, the countless hours of working to a goal because we’ve got guys from all walks of life, from all over the city, coming together for a common goal.”

Sabino is in a state championship game for the first time in 2016, when McBrayer, a former standout linebacker and tight end with the Sabercats, was the defensive coordinator under accomplished head coach Jay Campos. That was the last season Campos coached before taking an administrator position at the school and McBrayer took over in 2017.

Campos, now the assistant principal for interscholastics at Mica Mountain, led Sabino to four state championship games and fell short in each one. Advancing that far so many times in a 12-year span was impressive.

McBrayer played in two of those state championship games against Glendale Cactus in 2005 and Scottsdale Saguaro in 2006 when the Sabercats competed in Class 4A, Division I.

McBrayer’s brother Collin McBrayer, a Sabino assistant who is one of the top quarterbacks coaches in Southern Arizona, was a tight end with the Sabercats’ team in 2009 that reached the state title game against CDO’s unbeaten juggernaut that included Ka’Deem Carey and Blake Martinez.

“We’ve just been trying to work back to it (the state championship game),” Ryan McBrayer said. “This a special, special group that has put a lot of things together. We’ll see what we can do. One more week, that’s all we can ask for.”

Ryan McBrayer, 56-20 in his seventh year as head coach, has led the Sabercats to six playoff appearances.

The only year he did not reach the postseason was the COVID-19-impacted season of 2020. The Sabercats won both of the games they played that season. The seniors on this year’s team were freshmen then.

“They’ve just worked and dealt with adversity all the way through,” Ryan McBrayer said. “They earned this opportunity.”


Sabino was rated No. 7 when it upset No. 1 Mohave 24-19 at home in the regular-season finale Oct. 27. Three weeks later, the Sabercats upset top-seeded Mohave once again for the right to move on to the state championship. Here are Sabino’s scoring highlights (and another pertinent video):






Unofficial stats indicate Sabino senior QB Cam Hackworth passed for 183 yards while completing 16 of 22 passes in the win over Mohave. That puts Hackworth at 8,655 yards for his career, only 39 yards short of the Southern Arizona record of 8,694 yards compiled by former Catalina Foothills QB Rhett Rodriguez. Hackworth could break the record in Sabino’s first series against Paradise Honors in the championship.

Senior linebacker/running back Mason Cade tallied three sacks, a 39-yard touchdown reception and the game-clinching 30-yard touchdown run in the win over Mohave.


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 in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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