Photo by Mark JonesThere was a time when Luke Rubenzer conceded.
Luke Rubenzer seeks to lead Saguaro to a state title with a more confident approach.
Not during competition by any means. Anyone who has seen the Saguaro (Scottsdale) quarterback play knows there isn't any give or hesitation in his approach, but in the huddle and locker room he sat back a little. Of course he was a sophomore and former Saberbacts great running back DJ Foster was putting the finishing touches on his record-breaking career before heading to Arizona State.
"When I was a sophomore it was my first year as a starter," Rubenzer said. "I was playing not to mess things up and DJ Foster was there. I am not going compare myself to DJ, but that's more of my role now. I learned a lot from watching him lead this team to a state championship."
Without Foster the Sabercats lost in the second round to Desert Edge. A year later Saguaro (12-1) beat Desert Ridge on nine touchdown passes from Rubenzer, tying the 11-man state record in a 77-28 win.
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"Winning state as a freshman and sophomore, you know what it is like to be there, what it is like to win it," said the Cal recruit. "After that loss last year it was so disappointing. Most teams would be happy with making the second round, but winning state is like a tradition here and hopefully we can get back to it."
Third-seeded Saguaro takes on Division III defending state champion Queen Creek Friday at the University of Arizona with Rubenzer looking to finish off an amazing season as he has completed 208 of 280 passes (74 percent) for 3,955 yards and 58 touchdowns with only three interceptions (all in the season-opening loss to Chaparral).
He has rushed for 1,154 yards with nine scores, owns the state record for career touchdowns (127) and needs three touchdown passes to break the season record of 60 set last week by Desert Edge's Anthony Hernandez.
He'll gladly concede the record as long as it means he can win another state title.
"It's why you play the game," he said. "If you haven't won one then you want that first one and if already won state then you want to have that feeling again."
Photo by Duane Matsen
Matt Guida has fought back from a hamstring injury<br>to lead Queen Creek to the title game.
It wasn't exactly the path Queen Creek senior Matt Guida wanted to take back to the state championship game, but the Bulldogs made it.
"It was frustrating," said Guida, who was limited to seven games because of a hamstring injury. "I wanted to get back out there, but as an athlete if you come back even a day too early from an injury it can be a huge setback. That's what I did.
"But it was great seeing other players step in and keep this thing going."
The Bulldogs (11-2) knocked off rival and top-seeded Williams Field last week with Guida, who rushed for 2,829 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, back in control. But with the Air Force recruit on the sidelines most of the year, the defense and Weston Barlow (2,049 yards rushing, 22 touchdowns) kept Queen Creek on the championship path.
With the postponements of the semifinals until Monday, it gives everyone a shortened prep week leading into the championship games.
Everyone is under the same constraints so there is nothing unfair about it, but it doesn't make it any easier. Division I has an extra day for a total four days in between games, while Divisions II through V have three to prepare for the biggest game of the season.
The players didn't seem all that fazed by the shortened prep time. They just want to play games, but the coaches had a harder time letting go.
Coaches generally love control and want to be able to give the players all the information they can. It meant going to work, breaking down film Monday night instead of Saturday morning. Longer hours, fewer days to implement and less time in pads.
"It's a situation as coaches you want to have a little more control over everything," Chaparral (Scottsdale) coach David Huffine said as the Firebirds prepare to take on top-seeded Seton Catholic (Chandler) in the Division II game. "We had our walk-through, and I have a great coaching staff. The kids have been unbelievable. It's not the ideal situation, but it is the one we are in.
"We will prepare them the best way we can and go out and hopefully play our best game of the season."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Follow on Twitter @JSkodaAFN and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.