High school football
Sabino rolls past Winslow to reach 3A state semifinals
Sabercats next take on top-seeded Show Low
Sabino’s football team is right where they expected to be when they started preparing for this season months ago: One win from playing in the state championship game.
Drew Dixon and the fifth-seeded Sabercats cruised past No. 13 Winslow for a 48-0 win on Saturday night, moving on to the 3A state semifinals — where they will take on top-seeded Show Low with a chance to reach the program’s first state title game since 2009.
“There was really no doubt, from the minute we came out, who was going to win this football game,” Sabino coach Jay Campos said. “Just the overall momentum was in our court the whole time. Our defense played great and when we got clicking on offense it was hard to stop us and we were scoring points left and right.”
Junior quarterback Alex Bell completed 18 of 30 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns while Dixon hauled in seven catches for 138 yards and two scores, on top of throwing a pair of touchdown passes.
“This just shows that hard work really does pay off,” said Dixon, who is verbally committed to play for the Arizona Wildcats. “We’ve been working since January and it’s paid off.”
The victory pushed Sabino’s winning streak to seven games and capped off an unbeaten season at home, sending Campos and his seniors out on a high note. Campos, who took over the program in 2003, is stepping down after the season to focus on his administrative duties as an assistant principal at the school.
“You never know when it’s going to come to an end,” Campos said. “If this was the last one, it’s a great way to go out.”
Saturday’s game against Show Low will be played at Williams Field High School in Gilbert, with kickoff scheduled for 6:30 p.m. This marks the first semifinal appearance since 2011 for Sabino and its fifth in Campos’ 14 seasons at the helm.
In addition to Sabino, four other Southern Arizona programs are playing in the semifinals next weekend. Unbeaten Cienega faces Peoria Centennial on Friday night at Tucson High for a trip to the 5A state championship game while Catalina Foothills and Salpointe Catholic play in opposite 4A semifinal games in the Phoenix area. Then, Benson faces Eagar Round Valley in 2A action on Saturday night for a chance to reach its second straight championship game.
“This is awesome, the chance to be one of the last four teams,” Campos said. “If you get to the final four, anyone’s got a shot at that point. That’s all you can ask for, to have a shot to do it.”
Sabino (11-1) got off to a quick start on Saturday night, even after its opening drive stalled out. Dixon pulled in an interception 3 minutes later and then pulled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Bell nine plays later on fourth down.
“It really just got the fire going,” Dixon said. “We just fed off the momentum and we didn’t stop.”
After a three-and-out by the Bulldogs, Sabino put together another nine-play scoring drive to go up 14-0, but this time it was Dixon on the throwing end. Facing a third down, the senior scrambled to his right and escaped a slew of rushers before heaving a pass toward the goal line. That’s where junior Bennett Notthingham pulled it in behind two defenders and scooted into the end zone.
Nottingham’s older brother, Bailey, was a freshman on Sabino’s 2011 team that reached the Division III state semifinals so he’s enjoying a chance to experience a postseason run of his own.
“It’s just a great feeling, it’s surreal,” said Nottingham, who also serves as the kicker. “From back then to right now it’s just, I can’t believe it.”
Dixon pulled in his second touchdown pass of the game early in the second quarter, to put the Sabercats ahead 21-0. Then a 2-yard plunge into the end zone by senior Taylr Killian pushed Sabino’s lead even further.
Just before halftime, Dixon hit senior Damen Gibson for a 21-yard touchdown on another fourth down, putting his team in complete control.
Bell connected with junior Luke Moran for a 15-yard score on Sabino’s first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, after Winslow botched a punt attempt. Then Bell capped off his big night two possessions later with a 66-yard touchdown pass to fellow senior Andrew Carlsen.
“It’s always nice to just hold down the fort,” said senior linebacker James Offerman said. “If you come to the Saberdome it’s going to be a tough battle.”
Even with the big win, Dixon and the Sabercats aren’t planning on letting up anytime soon. Especially with a showdown against the unbeaten No. 1 seed coming up next.
“We’ve got to know that we can always get better and that this isn’t the best we can be,” Dixon said. “There’s always work to do so if we do that and we have a plan and we just execute it, I don’t see us losing.”