High school football
Dixon's fake punt helps lift Sabino over Pusch Ridge
Sabino’s star senior Drew Dixon had a hand in five touchdowns Friday night but his biggest play of the game didn’t put any points on the board – at least not right away.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound Arizona Wildcats commit converted a fake punt for a big gain early in the fourth quarter, sparking the Sabercats to a 34-20 win over defending state champion Pusch Ridge Christian. The victory on homecoming night may have locked up the 3A South regional championship.
“That fake punt has been good to us this year,” Sabino coach Jay Campos said. “We’ve been able to do some things with it. We’ve run it three weeks in a row and you saw tonight that was kind of the difference in the game; it allowed us to stay on the football field and make some plays.”
Crucial plays, that is.
Sabino, the No. 5 team in 3A, closed the game with 14 straight points after Dixon’s 26-yard gain on fourth and 10, when he originally lined up to punt the ball away but found an opening on the left side.
Prior to that, the two teams exchanged blows and appeared to be heading for overtime. But Dixon put the Sabercats up for good when he pushed his way into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run, four plays after his fake punt – which he succeeded on twice earlier in the game.
Pusch Ridge fumbled away the ball on the first play of its next possession. Not too long after that, it was Dixon once again who cashed it in with his third rushing touchdown of the game.
“This win just showed us how good we could be,” said Dixon, who also caught a touchdown and passed for another. “If we execute and we see the little things that we can fix, we can be an even better team. We’ve still got stuff to work on, we’ll always have stuff to work on, but I think we’re pretty good.”
Afterward, Campos told his team the win was one of the biggest in the regular season at home he could remember, particularly because it may have secured the region title. Sabino must beat Sahuarita and Empire over the next three weeks in order for that to hold true. The Sabercats (6-1) also have a non-league game against Douglas before the end of the regular season.
“We’ve still got more work to do but we put ourselves in a pretty good spot, “ said Campos, who is in his 14th season with the team. “The other big thing is the fact that Pusch Ridge is a good football team. Them have a really good, fundamental scheme and it’s not an easy scheme to defend because you don’t see it very often.”
Pusch Ridge, last year’s Division IV state champion, came into the showdown poised to pull off the upset and improve its chances of qualifying for the postseason for the fourth straight year. Now the 10th-ranked Lions (4-3) must win their final three games in order to have a shot at earning an at-large bid for the 3A state playoffs.
Senior running back and linebacker Dakota Haynes said he wouldn’t mind another matchup against Sabino next month.
“It was a tough loss,” said Haynes, who rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns. “They fought, we fought. But we’re looking forward to coming back, getting better, cleaning up those mistakes and making a run in the playoffs.
“They’re a good ball club so I’m looking forward to it if we meet again.”
Haynes had a 7-yard touchdown run just before halftime to tie the game at 13 and then scored on a 1-yard plunge late in the third to make it 20-20.
Just when it looked like Pusch Ridge had come up with a stop. Dixon’s fake punt shifted the momentum back to his sideline.
Junior quarterback Alex Bell scrambled for 28 yards on third and short to help set up Dixon’s go-ahead touchdown run. Bell again came through in Sabino’s next possession, after the Pusch Ridge fumble, completing two long passes to start the drive.
Bell then connected with senior Jaymison Anderson for 21-yard gain on third down. Then Bell rushed down to the goal line before Dixon the game-sealing touchdown.
“In the fourth quarter we just made plays when we needed to,” Bell said. “It was a huge win for us; it’s going to help us get home seeding in the playoffs and it’s going to help us on our main goal of winning a state championship.”