High school football
State title hopes more than just a dream for Catalina Foothills & Sabino
Catalina Foothills and Sabino faced off in a significant regional matchup last October, with the two local football programs both hoping to capture a state championship not too far down the road.
Rhett Rodriguez and the Falcons held on for a 3-0 win against Drew Dixon and the Sabercats on that rainy night, but neither team was able to fulfill its championship hopes the next month. Foothills fell in the Division III state quarterfinals while Sabino was upset in the first round.
But now, 13 months after that showdown, both programs are one win from achieving that mighty goal.
Catalina Foothills takes on three-time defending state champion Scottsdale Saguaro in the 4A state final at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday morning as Sabino lines up against Queen Creek American Leadership in the 3A championship game at Scottsdale Chaparral later in the day. Both games will air live on nfhsnetwork.com, but a subscription is required.
Foothills is well known as a perennial power for soccer, swimming and tennis but this marks the football program’s first championship appearance. And getting to this point was a journey that started four year ago for Rodriguez and a certain coaching legend who finds success just about anywhere he goes.
That man is Jeff Scurran, who was the last coach to lead Sabino to a state championship in 1998. Since then, the Sabercats have reached the finals on four other occasions, three of which have come under longtime coach Jay Campos at the helm. But for Campos, this could be the end of the road as he gets set to step down after the season to focus on his administrative duties as an assistant principal.
The two illustrious coaches aren't the only similarities between Foothills and Sabino this fall.
Both teams are loaded with veteran seniors but two in particular stand out: Rodriguez and Dixon. The two are verbally committed to play for the Arizona Wildcats and each has a very strong case to be labeled Tucson’s best player.
Rodriguez, a 6-foot-1-inch, 190-pound quarterback, put together the best game of his career last week to help Foothills reach the state finals for the first time. The senior passed for 298 yards and four touchdowns on top of rushing for 69 yards an three scores as the sixth-seeded Falcons knocked off No. 2 Gilbert Higley 62-37 in the semifinals.
Dixon, on the other hand, didn’t have his best performance last week but he’s been a big factor throughout the entire season as the Sabercats have outscored opponents 543-143 through 13 games. The 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound do-it-all senior has accounted for 1,367 yards rushing and receiving, 1,100 passing yards and 34 total touchdowns.
One thing Rodriguez and Dixon have in common is that they both got a first-hand preview of their championship opponent earlier this year, which happened to be on the same exact night. Foothills traveled to play at Saguaro on Sept. 2 and fell victim to a 35-0 loss, an outcome that wasn’t uncommon for most of its opponents. About 30 minutes down the road, Sabino topped American Leadership 16-13 for its closest regular-season win.
Of course, plenty has changed since those meetings 12 weeks ago. But what has remained steady for even longer than that are the championship aspirations carried by both Foothills and Sabino.