Desert Vista calmed down and never wavered from the game plan.
Saguaro seemingly expelled all of its aggressive energy in the first half on Friday, made too many mistakes when challenged and wore down.
It led to an extremely entertaining game as the Thunder erased a 22-point first-half deficit to knock off the Sabercats 31-28 when senior Scotty Goldfein shook off two previous misses for a game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired.
"I had to redeem myself," Goldfein said. "I had to work for my team because my team worked hard for me throughout the game. I owed them that. I don't put (the win) on me, my team won this game."
This game was debated throughout the week as one the more intriguing games of the year as media and fans alike had trouble figuring out.
Saguaro (5-1) is a small-school elite. The Sabercats, with an enrollment of about 1,400 students, won three of the last four state titles in the now defunct Class 4A Division I and continued to impress by winning by an average of 60-14 to start the year.
Desert Vista (6-0) is always one of the most talented teams in the state and had a resurgence with a state semifinal appearance last season. The Thunder, with an enrollment of about 3,000 students, put a hurting on everyone they faced in 2011, outscoring five opponents 237 to 27.
But because of the size difference not many were sure how it was going play out once they reached the field.
As it turned out Saguaro came out like the puppy that is the smallest in the litter but doesn't know it while pushing everyone else around to get to the food bowl, or in this case the end zone, first.
The Sabercats struck first, set up a blocked punt and a short field, and often but it wasn't just Division I running back prospect D.J. Foster (15 carries, 159 yards, 2 TD).
Sophomore quarterback Luke Rubenzer connected with Dakota Reistad for touchdown passes of 85 yards and 42 yards, with the first being a swing pass where the latter broke tackles and the second one they took advantage of broken coverage as Reistad ran all alone down the sideline.
When Desert Vista fumbled at the Saguaro 13-yard line late in the second quarter, Foster followed with a 67-yard touchdown run to go up 28-6 at half.
The Thunder had several long drives, controlled the line of scrimmage but trailed by 22 at the half. It could have been a deflated locker room with thoughts of a lost opportunity heading into next week's battle against Hamilton.
Instead the team turned to last year's experience of second-half comebacks and found out that his team had similar resiliency.
"We told them we were going find out exactly what kind of team they really are," Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. "I think we found out."
Desert Vista senior wide receiver/defensive back Matt Smith said the locker room never wavered.
"We knew we didn't play well and that if we went back to our game we'd comeback," said Smith, who hauled in a key 46-yard pass on the game-tying drive. "They really only had No. 8 (Foster) making plays. We knew we had it because we'd face that kind of adversity a lot last year."
Desert Vista opened the second half with a long drive that Mike Arredondo finished off with a score and then the game changed when Saguaro fumbled on the ensuing possession to give the Thunder a short field.
"I wasn't patient (on the pitch)," said Foster, who had only seven carries for 22 yards in the second half "It hit me high (on the pads) and I dropped it."
The Thunder took advantage as junior Jarek Hilgers (8 carries, 97 yards) scored from a yard out to close within 28-21 with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
Desert Vista game-tying drive was ignited by Smith's 46-yard reception on third and 13 from its own 45. He had to extend himself as the pass from Rodriguez (16 of 21 for 181) was almost too long, but Smith caught it and fell down at the Saguaro 11-yard line.
"I wanted to score, but couldn't keep my feet," he said. "Hunter put it out there perfectly. I had a double move and as soon as I cleared (the defender) I thought it was going to be a touchdown, but couldn't finish it off."
Arredondo eventually did as he pulled the game even at 28 with 8:46 left.
Saguaro had two chances to answer but DV's Ryan Wagner intercepted Rubenzer, which led to Goldfein's second field goal miss.
After a Sabercat punt the Thunder got the ball on their own 28 with just over 3 minutes left. Matt Geranen converted a third and 8 on a great catch and extension for the first to ignite the drive that led to Goldfein's game-winner.
It was clear that Desert Vista eventually wore down the Sabercats, but Saguaro coach John Sanders was pleased with the effort.
"I am very proud," he said. "We are not a very big school. To play a team like this, this tough, they know they were in a game.
"When my guys never leave the field, the thing we are concerned about always is depth. It's getting worn down and nicked. It is tough to defend them. At the end of the day, the kids did a great job with what we had."
NOTE: Scottsdale police and school secrurity was called to the Desert Vista locker room after the game as it appeared some of the players had their belongings taken during the game.
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.
Desert Vista 31, Saguaro 28
DV 6 0 15 10 - 31
S 7 21 0 0-28
S- Foster 12 run (Douds kick), 4:00.
DV - Kereluk 15 run (run failed), 8:08
S - Reistad 85 yard pass from Rubenzer (Douds kick), 7:17
S - Reistad 42 pass from Rubenzer (Douds kick), 5:23
S - Foster 67 run (Douds kick)
DV - Arredondo 1 run (Hilgers run), 7:45
DV - Hilgers 1 run (Goldfein kick), 4:37
DV - Arredondo 1 run (Goldfein kick), 8:46
DV - Goldfein 30 kick, 0:00
First downs 20 8
Rushes-yards 49-298 18-170
Passing yards 181 151
Comp-Att-Int 16-21-0 5-9-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 7-65 4-20
Desert Vista (6-0) erased a 22-point first-half deficit when Scotty Goldfein connected on a 30-yard field as the clock expired to win a non-division game against stunned Saguaro (5-1).
On a third and long, Desert Vista quarterback Hunter Rodriguez hit Matt Smith for a 46-yard reception to set up the game-tying touchdown.
Player of the game
Desert Vista junior running back Jarek Hilgers provided a third running option for the Thunder and he responded with eight carries for 97s yards, a touchdown, a 2-point conversion and four catches for 70 yards.
Saguaro's DJ Foster had only 7 carries for 22 yards in the second half after having seven for 135 in the first half.