Scottsdale Saguaro turned grief into inspiration and ended top-ranked Queen Creek’s 19-game winning streak Friday night with a 35-28 Division III football victory that was for the man known as “Tug.”
Twelve-year equipment manager Mike “Tug” Garcia died Monday morning, turning the biggest week of Saguaro’s football season into a memorial for the man coach Jason Mohns called “the heart and soul” of the athletic department for his hustle to help everybody, from players to coaches.
The 44-year-old’s favorite color was green, so Saguaro made it a “green out,” selling “In Tug We Trust” T-shirts and with Garcia’s big family joining his other family — Saguaro players and coaches — on the field for a moving pregame memorial that had no words, but the song “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” played.
After green balloons were let go through a big white banner that read, “All in for Tug,” Saguaro players cried, then played lights out.
Senior quarterback Luke Rubenzer found J.T. Nettleton for touchdowns of 19 and 22 yards, and split the Queen Creek secondary with a 68-yard scoring strike to Cameron Koutsalas. Rubenzer also ran for a 3-yard touchdown.
“He was the one looking out for us,” Rubenzer said of Garcia. “It was great to come out and do this, especially against a great team with great coaches.”
Third-ranked Saguaro (5-1) was the last team to beat Queen Creek (5-1), in the 2011 state quarterfinals.
Queen Creek was without All-Arizona tailback Matt Guida (hamstring) for a third consecutive game and lost 800-yard rusher Weston Barlow late in the first half. His backup, Trey Lemley, left in the final quarter, holding his arm.
Still, Queen Creek wouldn’t go away with quarterback Bryce Dobbs and receiver Mike Kemmerer making plays.
Semone Brown’s 16-yard scoring run with 2:10 left cut Saguaro’s lead to 35-28. Saguaro recovered the on-side kick and got one more big play from Koutsalas — a 19-yard pass play — to kill the rest of the time.
“It was tough,” Mohns said. “It was an emotional time before the game. There wasn’t a dry eye in the locker room. We just had to do the best we could to get our mind-set right before the game. We played with a heavy heart. Tug meant the world to this team.
“Our players wanted to give him a tribute and show what he meant to us. It was tough. It was emotional. But I thought it was beautiful. His family was there. I told the kids, ‘How can people have an opportunity to be part of something that is bigger than themselves?’ We had that opportunity. And I thought we took advantage of it. I’m proud of our team.
“Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in wins and losses. But, at the end of the day, it’s relationships and it’s people. When you lose good people, people who are important to you, it kind of diminishes the importance of a win on a Friday night. But with that said, this was a big game for us. Tug Garcia loved this football program, this football team. He wouldn’t (want us to) come out feeling sorry for themselves. He would want them coming out and beating a good team and ending their 19-game winning streak on our home field.”