The roll call is brief and exclusive:
Tucson High, 1965, 12-0.
Tucson High, 1970, 12-0.
Palo Verde, 1973, 13-0.
Amphi, 1979, 13-0.
Sabino, 1990, 14-0.
Sabino, 1992, 14-0.
Mountain View, 1993, 14-0.
Canyon del Oro, 2009, 14-0.
Over 50 years, eight big-school Tucson teams have won ’em all. It is a small and distinguished membership, eight perfect state champions out of about 1,000 football teams.
Now comes Salpointe Catholic (13-0) playing not just for perfection on Friday night, but for history.
This is inevitably what you will hear if the Lancers beat Scottsdale Chaparral (12-1) in the Division II state championship game at Arizona Stadium: Salpointe is the best Tucson team ever.
But that’s too easy. Outracing the past takes more than a few bold declarations.
True, the Lancers are outscoring their opponents 50-6. They’ve never trailed (their smallest margin of victory is 31 points). Coach Dennis Bene’s lineup is littered with future college players, even those who don’t get Cameron Denson-size headlines, those like Taylor Powell, Justin Holt and Breeon Auzenne.
The only man to coach two unbeaten state champs over the last 50 years, Jeff Scurran, winner of the 1990, 1992 and 1998 championships at Sabino, gives the Lancers their due.
“We were very dominant with no real weaknesses,” he says of his ’92 Sabercats. “But we did not have a team like this Salpointe team.”
Scurran has been magnanimous and consistent in his evaluation of the Lancers all season. They have dodged no one. Chaparral will be the 10th Salpointe opponent with a winning record. The Lancers won in Nevada and in California. They are 3-0 against Phoenix teams.
One interested ex-coach is Bob Logan, senior director of development at the UA College of Science, who played at Salpointe in the ’70s, coached the Lancers in the ’80s and spent time coaching at Arizona and in the Italian pro league.
“I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see a team comparable to the 1970 Tucson Badgers,” he says. “This one does.”
The ’70 Badgers historically get the most attention from those who have spent time examining the history of Tucson prep football.
The numbers are similar to those of the ’13 Lancers: in 1970, coach Ollie Mayfield’s Badgers outscored opponents 39-12 on average, and outgained them per game, 429 to 223. That’s nine more yards a game than this year’s sizzling Lancers.
On game day in 1970, the Star’s cartoonist would draw a panel for Friday’s sports section in which he predicted the outcome of that night’s games. He drew a Badger hitting an Amphi Panther over the head with a mallet. He pictured a snarling Badger driving a “Big Red Machine,” on top of a Salpointe Lancer.
Another week it was a menacing Badger grabbing the spear from a Sunnyside Blue Devil and poking it in the posterior.
Will Kreamer, an all-state guard on that 1970 THS team, a former head football coach at Sahuaro and Santa Rita, accepts that the 2013 Lancers have a more powerful defense than his 1970 contemporaries.
“Offensively,’’ he says, “I think it’s a different story.’’
The ’70 Badgers had three 1,000-yard rushers: Allistaire Heartsfield, 1,396; Derral Davis, 1,087; Mark Simon, 1,143.
When the Badgers beat Phoenix Sunnyslope 54-16 in the state championship game, gaining 452 yards, Vikings coach Bill Buck said that if he were Arizona coach Bob Weber, “I’d just take one big blank letter-of-intent over to Tucson High and sign up the whole team.’’
Simon signed with Wisconsin. Davis went to Oklahoma. Heartsfield became an Arizona Wildcat. Defensive end Marvin Lewis signed with USC. Defensive lineman Jinx Johnson went to Pitt. Lineman Steve Garcia played for Boise State. Linemen Mike Dawson, Mike Bailey and Kreamer went to Arizona.
And that doesn’t include the small-school, or junior-college recruits such as Gilbert Ramos, John Trujillo and Richard Corral.
The ’70 Badgers and ’13 Lancers couldn’t be more different. Mayfield ran an old T-formation offense; Bene runs the modern spread.
But in many ways they are similar. The Lancers defense is coached by one of the best in the state, Joe Bernier, who is the modern-day Ralph Bailey, one of the most accomplished assistant coaches in Tucson prep history, and Mayfield’s lead assistant.
The ranking prep publication of the day, Letterman, ranked the Badgers No. 12 nationally. Today, MaxPreps.com, ranks Salpointe No. 5.
“They’re superior to everything we’ve seen,’’ Sunnyslope’s Buck said about the Badgers after the ’70 championship game. “I think they’re as good as any team in the country.’’
On Friday, the Lancers won’t care about the rest of the country. They are attempting to become a state football champion for the first time in the school’s 62-year history.
The debate can wait.