With less than 30 seconds to play Friday, Scottsdale Saguaro showed the heart of a football champion, reflecting the state titles it won in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Trailing 33-25, the homestanding Sabercats drove near the 25 of reigning state champion Canyon Del Oro.
A pass from Teddy Ruben to wide receiver Curtis Carney was on his fingertips. It was deflected away by Ka'Deem Carey at the 2-yard line. CDO held on, and moved to 6-0 on the season.
The dramatic finish almost overshadowed the triumphant return of CDO's Carey, Arizona's most electrifying running back. After missing the last two games with an ankle injury, Carey carried for losses on his first two carries, before breaking a 26-yard run.
Carey found his groove and rushed for 274 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
The University of Arizona-bound senior broke a 69-yard run for a touchdown to give the Dorados a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. He also scored on a 36-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
"Once I broke it," Carey said. "I felt like I was back. We got a good push up front."
The Dorados built a 21-7 halftime lead when Quintin Kime caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jason McBrayer with 23 seconds left before halftime.
The Sabercats were playing without some key players due to injuries, including their regular kicker. That proved an early gain for CDO. On its opening series, Scottsdale Saguaro was faced with a fourth-and-five at its own 25. Rather than punt with an untested kicker, the 'Cats went for it and were stopped a yard short by the Dorados defense.
The Dorados exploited the short field and McBrayer ran 22 yards for a touchdown.
McBrayer gained 60 yards rushing on 10 carries, scored two touchdowns, and also passed for one. The Dorados rushed for 379 yards versus the former state champions.
A 64-yard scoring drive appeared to put the game away in the third quarter. Carey had a 32-yard run on the series, and McBrayer ran five yards for a touchdown. After a failed conversion attempt on a run, the Dorados led 27-7.
"We sat on the lead," Carey said. "We got lackadaisical."
Ruben fired a 28-yard pass to Jon Lindemann. After a few first downs, the home team had marched to the 14 before Ruben ran it in for the touchdown to cut the gap to 33-19. That was the score after three.
The Dorados struck right back, as Eddie Smith ran 14 yards for a first down to the Sabercats 33-yard line.
Then, came the strangest play of the game. Carey took the handoff, and darted to his left, racing down the left sideline. Just at it appeared he was going to score, Carey stuck out the ball but it popped loose and rolled out of the end zone. The officials awarded the ball to Saguaro.
"The refs called what they called," Carey said. "It was a big momentum shift."
In the fourth quarter, the Sabercats marched 99 yards for a touchdown to get back into the game.
Ruben ran 28 yards. Then, he completed a 67-yard pass to D.J. Foster who almost scored, but got the ball down to the CDO 4-yard line. Then, it was Ruben's turn to score from four yards out. Uncertain of its kicking game, Saguaro tried a run on the conversion attempt, but it failed and left the score 33-25.
The Sabercats failed on a couple of onside kick attempts, but their defense stopped the Dorados on three plays twice in the final quarter. This enabled them to take over with 2:44 left at their own 42. The visitors section of the bleachers (at least 60 percent full with CDO rooters) became so loud, booming with energy, that it sounded like its own capacity crowd.
After a couple of penalties against the Sabercats, Ruben came up with a clutch completion to Lindemann for 31 yards down to the CDO 30. That set the stage for the game's final dramatics.
Ruben completed 13 of 22 passes for 214 yards, and also ran the ball 28 times for 175 yards and three second-half touchdowns.
"We're young in the secondary," said CDO coach Dustin Peace. "We have a lot to learn from the game six victory.
"This will be a huge learning experience. We knew from the beginning, we'd get put to the test. I'm sure we'll see them later (playoffs) in the year."