One day last spring as Salpointe Catholic’s football team was completing spring practice, I asked Lancers coach Dennis Bene about the coming season.
“We’ve got to be good enough to beat Saguaro,” he said.
After coaching more than 200 games at Salpointe, Bene knows the drill. To win the Class 4A state title, you’ve got to beat the Scottsdale powerhouse. And sure enough, Salpointe and Saguaro will meet Saturday at noon at Arizona Stadium for the championship.
Saguaro has won state football titles in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016. The Sabercats are 157-17 over that period, and they’ve had little mercy on Tucson teams, particularly the top programs in Tucson because no mid-level Tucson team has been foolish enough to schedule Saguaro.
Over that 12-year period, Saguaro is 15-3 against Tucson. It knocked Jay Campos’ powerful Sabino teams out of the state playoffs in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014. Last year, Saguaro whipped Jeff Scurran’s Catalina Foothills club, led by Rhett Rodriguez, in the state championship game.
The only Tucson teams to overcome Saguaro were the 2009 and 2010 Canyon del Oro teams of Ka’Deem Carey and Jared Tevis and the ’09 Sabino team of Keanu Nelson.
Alas, in the 2010 state championship game, Saguaro beat Carey, Tevis and undefeated CDO 41-22.
As for Bene, his team lost in last year’s state semifinals 24-3 to Saguaro, a game that was closer than the score indicated. In that game, Salpointe freshman running back Bijan Robinson carried just three times.
This season, Robinson emerged. He’s as good as any football player in the state. He rushed for a school-record 303 yards last week against No. 1 Sunrise Mountain.
Saturday’s game at Arizona Stadium should be worth the price of admission.