TUCSON, Ariz. – This is nothing new for Scottsdale Saguaro, getting the marquee player to jump-start things, posing for championship photos, riding off at the end of the season with another gold football.
But this time, it got a big effort from one of its smallest players, Stone Matthews, a workhorse the second half of the season, who carried a career-high 39 times for 291 yards and two touchdowns in Saguaro’s 38-20 Division II championship victory over Tempe Marcos de Niza at Arizona Stadium.
“They said, let’s run the ball, put our shoulders down and get physical,” said Matthews, who finished with a flourish, going over 2,000 rushing yards with his 11th consecutive game of more than 100 on the ground.
Matthews, 5-foot-7, 180 pounds, one of many underclassmen on this team, was an unexpected star this season. A wrestler, Matthews relied on his big blockers to part holes. He would squeeze out every yard he could find, always running north and south.
“He’s got the right compact, muscular build for a running back to run the ball 25 times a game,” coach Jason Mohns said. “… He gets his little feet churning and he gets lost behind our line. He’s 180 pounds and our offensive line averages 300 pounds. That’s a great high school player.”
Like D.J. Foster and Christian Kirk before him, Murphy leaves Saguaro with a championship.
With his team trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter, Murphy took a pass from Kare’ Lyles, made a cut-back move and raced 64 yards for a touchdown.
Saguaro (12-2) scored 12 unanswered points, before Marcos de Niza (12-3) responded.
Lyles pump-faked and found Murphy for a 33-yard gain to the 16. After Matthews ran to the 2 on a couple of strong runs, Lyles showed great touch, lofting a pass in the corner of the end zone for Murphy and an 18-14 lead with 1 minute, 50 seconds left in the half.
“Once I made a play, I went back to the sideline and said, ‘Let’s keep it going,’ ” said Murphy, the state’s top-rated 2016 recruit, who had eight catches for 121 yards and intercepted a pass late in the game, allowing Saguaro to run out the clock. “Every time we’d get down this year, we always believed we’d come back. I felt like our team stepped it up overall.”
It was Saguaro’s eighth state title in 10 years and third in a row. It moved up from Division III this year, and, despite two losses to Division I teams early and some adversity late with a couple of players kicked off the team and two others suspended, Saguaro never doubted it could go the distance again.
“They started having fun,” Mohns said. “It was great to see the smile on their faces.”