Basha against Saguaro, in the AIA Open Division football State Championship game

Basha head coach Chris McDonald holds up the trophy as the Bears celebrate defeating Saguaro 28-21 in the AIA Open Division football State Championship game, Saturday, December 10, 2022, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Basha needed one last stop to secure the Open Division championship against Saguaro Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.

But the Sabercats were driving with less than a minute remaining and just a one-score deficit. It was similar to the way Saguaro beat Liberty in the semifinals, one last drive followed by a touchdown and successful two-point attempt to reach the final.

Basha coach Chris McDonald said the thought crossed his mind as he watched the Sabercats move down the field behind quarterback Devon Dampier. But their final pass fell incomplete, and Basha secured the 28-21 victory in their first-ever championship appearance.

“I’m just happy for the kids,” McDonald said. “We felt we had a really good opportunity to hold up the good ball. We felt that way last year, too, we just didn’t get it done.

“They just had a belief. It wasn’t arrogance, it was business … we’ve got a lot of really good football players that are great kids and work their tails off.”

Basha relied heavily on its run game against Chandler in the semifinals. It was much of the same against Saguaro.

All four of Basha’s touchdowns came on the ground. Senior running back Deshaun Buchanan opened up the scoring with a 34-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

For the moment, Basha held all the momentum. But Jaedon Matthews answered with a 94-yard kick return for a touchdown. It set the tone for the rest of the first half, as the two teams traded touchdowns from Buchanan and Dampier.

“Dampier has won a lot of games like this. That guy’s won more games like this than he’s lost,” McDonald said. “He’s a heck of a competitor. New Mexico is getting an absolute steal in that kid.

“The things he has, you can’t coach.”

Buchanan rushed for one more score in the fourth quarter, a 3-yard run that came on the heels of an 83-yard run down the Saguaro sideline.

He and defensive back Cole Martin transferred to Basha two years ago to continue helping build the football program. They helped elevate it into an Open Division contender in 2021 and champion in 2022.

He rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns in the process.

“I knew when I woke up this morning I decided it would be the best game I’ve ever played in my life,” Buchanan said. “We really did it for the community. I’ve never seen this many people try to pack out a college stadium for the state game. To bring the first one to Basha, it meant a lot.

“We were playing for the people back at school.”

Basha’s Defense knew it had to corral Dampier entering the contest. His ability to extend plays with his legs makes him a true dual threat and one of the best in the state.

The Bears pass rush got to him on several occasions, led by defensive tackle Brody Jones and linebacker Jack Bleier, among others. Dampier, however, had his moments.

He scored his second rushing touchdown late in the fourth to get Saguaro within a score. He then orchestrated a drive down the field and came a fourth-down conversion away from potentially tying the game or going for a 2-point conversion to win.

He finished 10-of-23 for 72 yards and an interception but rushed for 87 yards and two scores. Saguaro coach Jason Mohns credited him and the rest of the seniors for the way they fought, especially when written off early in the season.

“There’s a lot of tears in their eyes, there’s a lot of hurt,” Mohns said. “When you care about something deeply, it hurts. A lot of teenagers protect themselves from hurt like this. I’m proud of our guys because they were clearly invested in what we were trying to do. We came up just short and there’s no shame in that.

“I’m proud of this team. I told them this is one of the best playoff runs I’ve been a part of. We didn’t win this last game, but this team sure made me proud.”

The win was monumental for a Basha team that accomplished many firsts this year.

The Bears made their first championship appearance, and it came while beating Hamilton and Chandler in the same season for the first time ever. In their first meeting with Saguaro, they emerged victorious.

Those were the goals for players like Lockhart when he enrolled at Basha as a freshman. He wanted to change the culture. He wanted to turn the program into one that was a winner. He and his teammates did that.

“I loved growing with this team, it means everything to me,” Lockhart said. “This is what I wanted. I don’t want to leave my own destiny. I want to leave a legacy for everybody else. This means a lot to me.

“This is everything we’ve been working toward. It feels like it all paid off and this season didn’t go to an end.”

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