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It took 48 minutes and one overtime period, but Saguaro prevailed over the Higley Knights at Chaparral High School and secured their ticket to a fifth straight state title game with a 37-31 win.

Higley quarterback Spencer Brasch threw a pass that was bobbled by receiver Jacob Rowland and picked off by Josiah Bradley. The turnover on the very first drive would set the tone for what kind of game both defenses would play.

Saguaro quarterback Max Massingale led a drive down to the Higley 22-yard line, but the drive stalled out and kicker Joseph Zepp missed a 39-yard field goal.

Towards the end of the first quarter, Saguaro struck first when Massingale faked a jet sweep handoff and cruised into the end zone for a seven-yard rushing touchdown.

Brasch had runs of 13, 14 and 21 yards on the ensuing Higley drive to set up a 10-yard rushing touchdown by standout running back Draycen Hall.

Massingale and Brasch each threw an interception in the second quarter to set up a field goal for the opposing team. The Knights and Sabercats were knotted up at 10 at the end of the first half.

In the second half, both offenses showed their big play prowess. Massingale led a strong opening drive in the second quarter that culminated in a 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Zach Wilson.

Brasch answers with a touchdown pass of his own to receiver Antonio Gutierrez.

The Sabercats and Knights played strong defense throughout the rest of the third quarter to set up a fourth quarter full of suspense, big plays and turnovers.

Three touchdowns were scored in the first four minutes of the final quarter.


Josiah Bradley talks winning in overtime and going to his fourth straight title game
Robert Gundran/azcentral sports

Higley opened with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Brasch to tight end Ty Robinson. Robinson spiked the ball after his touchdown and was flagged. The flag forced Higley to kick a long extra point, which was wide left.

Saguaro retook the lead quickly after Logan Pettijohn took a screen pass 54 yards into the end zone.

Higley running back Draycen Hall gave the Knights another lead late in the game when he found a seam and burst through the Sabercat defense for a 69-yard touchdown run.

Bradley refused to be outdone by his counterpart and torched the Higley defense for a 20-yard score to tie the game up at 31 with six minutes to play.

Massingale and Brasch couldn’t hang onto the ball late in the game. Brasch threw a touchdown deep in Saguaro territory with three minutes to play, and Massingale fumbled during a quarterback draw at the Higley 31-yard line.

Higley had to drive almost 70 yards with just over a minute left in regulation. The Knights’ drive stalled out at the Saguaro 40, and Brasch had to settle for a fifty yard desperation pass as time expired.

That pass was picked off by the Saguaro defense in what was Brasch’s fourth interception of the night and fifth turnover.

Saguaro won the overtime coin flip and deferred the first possession to the Knights. The Sabercat defense looked fresh as they stuffed Hall at the line of scrimmage, sacked Brasch on third down and delivered enough pressure to force a missed field goal by Higley.

All Saguaro had to do was kick a field goal to finish one of their closest games of the year, but Bradley took the handoff from Massingale on second down and rushed down the left sideline for a nine-yard touchdown to give the Sabercats the 37-31 victory.

Standout performer

Josiah Bradley, Saguaro: The senior played like his life depended on a victory tonight. He started off his night with a bang when he grabbed an interception off a pass from Brasch.

The six-foot-two-inch running back had a would-be touchdown called back in the first quarter, but didn’t let that stop his motor, as he only ran stronger and stronger as the game progressed. The Saguaro offense leaned on Bradley when they needed guaranteed yardage. Bradley rushed for a 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

Bradley’s number was called for both of Saguaro’s overtime plays, and he delivered a victory for his team via a nine-yard score.

More standouts

Draycen Hall, Higley: The loudest cheer of the night came on the heels of Hall’s 69-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The visiting bleachers at Chaparral High School exploded as Hall left every Saguaro defender in his wake.

During Hall’s 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, he carried a Sabercat defender several yards with him into the end zone.

Hall’s bruising running style helped open up the passing game for Higley. Hall routinely carried a pile of defenders for an extra three or four yards.

After the loss, Hall took a knee at midfield to take in his last moments on the field as a high school player.

“I just feel so humbled,” said Hall. “I’m proud of my team that we were able to make it this far.”

Saguaro Defense:Saguaro’s defense picked off Brasch four times and forced three fumbles, one of which was recovered by the Sabercats. Saguaro’s was routinely in Brasch’s face, forcing off-balance and back-foot throws.

Connor Soelle, Josiah Bradley and Logan Pettijohn each had an interception off of Brasch.

Quote of the game

“I made it for my team, and I had to take them to the championship,” said Bradley.

Bradley showed up when his team needed him most, helping Saguaro reach their fifth straight state title game.

Stat of the game

The Saguaro and Higley defenses combined for eight takeaways.

Saguaro had five takeaways (four interceptions, one fumble recovery), and Higley had three (two interceptions, one fumble recovery).

Although Saguaro went +2 in the turnover battle, Higley outscored them in points-off-turnovers, 10-3. The Sabercats will need to shore up their offense heading into the 4A title game.

Up next

The Higley Knights secured their second straight top-four finish. Brasch got valuable playoff experience and will head into the 2018 season as one of the quarterbacks to watch as the Knights make their move to 5A.

Saguaro will face off against the Salpointe Catholic Lancers in the 4A state title game on December 2 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.

The Sabercats defeated the Lancers 24-3 in the semi-finals of last year’s state playoff tournament.