Young, fearless, talented, Saguaro's young guns ready to return Cats to Open final

·5 min read

Junior quarterback Devon Dampier has taken control of the offense. Sophomore backs Jaedon Matthews and JoJo Clark have made a big splash.

For Scottsdale Saguaro to get back to the Open Division state football championship game, the Sabercats will need those three guys to step up big against what will be the best defense they have seen this year.

Top-ranked Chandler Hamilton, rated No. 11 nationally by MaxPreps, awaits these young guns, already making life rough for some of the best players the Huskies have faced.

The two teams square off Saturday night to see which will advance to this year's Open Division championship game.

Two years ago, Saguaro beat Hamilton in the semifinals. That was when the Huskies were just starting to get back to being heyday Hamilton under coach Mike Zdebski.

Earlier this year, Hamilton made Scottsdale Chaparral change its offense and go away from talented quarterback Brayten Silbor in a 35-32 win, because of the front pressure they applied.

The Huskies sacked Chandler QB Blaine Hipa 11 times to end the Wolves' 45-game winning streak in a 21-14, regular-season finale win.

And they sacked American Leadership Queen Creek speedy QB Logan Hubler four times and held him to under 200 yards passing with just 50% completions in last week's 38-14 quarterfinal rout.

Dampier, who started his first game last season in a 42-21 win over previously unbeaten 4A Glendale Cactus, gives Saguaro that extra athletic gear in the backfield to try to offset Hamilton's fierce front seven that can rattle the best quarterbacks in the state.

Dampier, a dynamic transfer from Phoenix Pinnacle, has the ability to run and make something out of nothing when he appears trapped. He broke off 11- and 20-yard touchdown runs and threw a 29-yard TD pass to senior Junius Marsh in the first half last week when the 'Cats built a 28-7 lead.

But there were the two third-quarter fumbles that allowed Cactus to momentarily threaten.

It was the first time Dampier was the fulltime starter for Saguaro. After he became eligible midway through the season, he alternated every two series with senior Ridge Docekal, who has committed to Idaho.

Dampier wasn't eligible yet in Saguaro's only loss, 27-26, to Chaparral.

"He got some rust off," coach Jason Mohns said. "It's different. Those guys were alternating every two series. It's different to come out and be the starter and get the run of it. He's a phenomenal player. Ridge is a phenomenal player. We feel we have two great quarterbacks who can attack in different ways. We're preparing both of those guys."

This figures to be Dampier's game to win or lose, because his escapability will make him less a sitting target.

He's got moves that separates him from most dual-threat quarterbacks in the state. And he's got playoff experience. He was thrust into the starting role at Pinnacle for the playoffs last year after JD Johnson, during a physical at the University of Michigan, was found to have a heart defect.

"I was talking to a college coach the other day, and he was talking about the type of quarterback he likes to recruit," Mohns said. "He talked about having the guy in where you don't have to call the perfect play.

"Devon is that guy you don't have to call the perfect play, because sometimes the play is busted and all of a sudden it's a 35-yard play. That's where he's different."

Dampier is ready for anything.

"They have a really good defensive line, but I have a lot of faith in our offensive line," Dampier said. "They've done some beautiful things all year, so my confidence in them is high."

Saguaro junior QB Devon Damier (left) and sophomore playmakers Jaedon Matthews (center) and JoJo Clark have confidence against Hamilton in Open semifinals. Photo by Richard Obert
Saguaro junior QB Devon Damier (left) and sophomore playmakers Jaedon Matthews (center) and JoJo Clark have confidence against Hamilton in Open semifinals. Photo by Richard Obert

Dampier knows he doesn't have to be a magician. He's got playmakers around him, maybe none more valuable than senior Javen Jacobs, who can make plays running the ball, catching the ball, throwing the ball and returning kicks.

"We're Saguaro and we're going to play Saguaro football," Dampier said. "That's what it is."

Jacobs is a the team's heart and soul, a calming influence who knows how to settle the younger stars-in-the-making.

"I just try to tell them, 'It's just another game,' " said Jacobs, who returned a punt for a touchdown in last year's regular-season, ESPN-televised 13-7 loss to Hamilton. "We know the stage is big. We know the semifinals are going to have a lot of people there. But, at the end of the day, it's still the same four quarters. If you let the stage get to you, that's when you get nervous and make mistakes."

Matthews didn't allow the quarterfinal stage swallow him. He broke off a 69-yard run in the first quarter for the game's first touchdown. Matthews had 137 yards on eight carries against Cactus. Dampier ran for 102 yards and three TDs on 12 carries, and passed for 143 yards, completing nine of 14.

"I feel really confident in my line," Matthews said. "It's really coming together and being ready for Hamilton."

Clark, who is used out of wildcat in goal-line situations, also makes plays at receiver and on defense at linebacker. He's much like former Saguaro standout Will Shaffer, now at Arizona State, in the way he can impact the game in different ways.

"Whatever the coaches need me," Clark said. "If they need a tight end, a blocker. I'll be a blocker. I'm a team player."

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Saguaro's young guns ready to return Cats to Open final

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