Saguaro's Byron Murphy motivated to leave with a title

Saguaro's Byron Murphy motivated to leave with a title

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Saguaro's Byron Murphy motivated to leave with a title

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Saguaro High defensive back and wide receiver Byron Murphy smiles while being interviewed during the AIA high school football championship media day at Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que in Mesa on Tuesday, November 24, 2015.

Saguaro High defensive back and wide receiver Byron Murphy smiles while being interviewed during the AIA high school football championship media day at Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que in Mesa on Tuesday, November 24, 2015.

When Byron Murphy parted ways with Tempe Marcos de Niza after his sophomore year and transferred to Scottsdale Saguaro, coach Sean Morin didn’t file it in the back of his mind for a future meeting.

Such as Saturday’s Division II state football championship meeting at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.

“I don’t have any hard feelings for a kid who did what he felt he needed to do,” the Marcos de Niza head coach said. “I look at it as, with him leaving, it opened up a couple of spots for other kids. They’ve really done a great job and deserved to play.”

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Avery Sanders and Shaun Richards seized their opportunities after Murphy, the state’s top-rated 2016 prospect as a cornerback and wide receiver, left to help Saguaro go 14-0 and capture the Division III championship last season when he made azcentral sports’ All-Arizona team at wide receiver.

They don’t have the flashy numbers like Murphy, who has 79 catches for 1,605 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. But Sanders and Richards have been clutch all season.

Late in the season, Richards scored on a 61-yard catch-and-run late to beat Tempe Corona del Sol 22-15.

Last week, in a 44-37 semifinal win over top-seed and unbeaten Mesa Skyline, Sanders’ 8-yard scoring run late won it.

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They are Marcos de Niza’s leading rushers. Sanders has carried the ball 81 times for 700 yards and seven TDs, while Richards has rushed for 541 yards and 12 TDs on 70 carries.

Richards leads the 12-2 Padres in receiving with 33 catches for 663 yards and five TDs.

“We’re just going to play our game,” Sanders said about matching up against his former teammate in the biggest game of his life. “We’re still friends.”

Sanders and Richards both could be guarding Murphy on defense.

Sanders is an outside linebacker/safety who will run into Murphy when Murphy goes into the slot. Richards, a cornerback, likely will be assigned to Murphy when he is out wide.

Murphy is looking forward to the matchup.

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“It feels amazing,” Murphy said. “I have a lot of respect for their team. They’re my friends over there, the players, the coaching staff. We’re pumped about playing each other. We’re good friends.”

This is only the second time Marcos de Niza has played in the state final. The last time was 2009.

Murphy was a key to Saguaro’s state championship season last year.

He wants to be part of Saguaro lore, following the best players in school history to leave with a state championship.

It dates back to running back/defensive back Mike Brown in 1995 to last year when Player of the Year Christian Kirk led the Sabercats.

“I’ll definitely make plays for my team to get the victory,” Murphy said.

Mohns talked to Murphy earlier this week about being that guy to lead Saguaro to an eighth state championship since 2006.

Ending it against his former school really doesn’t play into Murphy’s mind as much as taking home another goal ball. That is the incentive.

“Obviously, he’s excited about this game,” Mohns said. “One, because it’s for the state championship. And, two, because he’s playing against some of his friends. I know  he wants to go out with a win. We talked about all of the great players at Saguaro went out with a state championship.

“It should be fun. But we’re a lot more than one player.”

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Saguaro's Byron Murphy motivated to leave with a title
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