With 2 minutes 8 seconds left in the Division II state championship game, Salpointe Catholic coach Dennis Bene made his way down to the field from the Arizona Stadium coaches box at the top of Section 22.
As soon as he set foot on the sideline, the Lancers’ longtime coach was mobbed and — eventually — drenched.
He had been waiting years for that moment.
The 13th-year coach helped lead Salpointe to a perfect 14-0 season and its first football state title with a 46-20 win Friday over powerhouse Scottsdale Chaparral at Arizona Stadium, the same site where his 1981 squad fell to Phoenix Trevor Browne. Bene was a backup quarterback then. Few, if any, have more experience with the highs and lows of Salpointe football.
“These guys played their hearts out and have done everything we’ve asked all year,” Bene said. “For every former coach and player that has been able to call themselves a Lancer, they can now call themselves No. 1.”
Saturday morning, roughly 12 hours after the win, he was still on Cloud Nine. Bene said he had several state championship coaches welcoming him to “The Club.”
“It feels great,” he said.
Friday’s celebration was grand, but also bittersweet. The Lancers will graduate 19 senior starters, including 10 on offense. Gone is quarterback Andrew Cota, who amassed 6,632 passing yards and 71 touchdowns over the last three seasons while throwing just seven interceptions.
Wide receiver/cornerback Cameron Denson will also leave some big shoes to fill next year. The Arizona Wildcats commit has been a do-it-all player for Bene over the last four years, just like he was on Friday night when he had four catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns and a 84-yard kick return for a score.
Despite losing so many key players in addition to Cota and Denson, Bene said he’s excited about the future.
Starting middle linebacker Taylor Powell, a junior, will be back at the same spot next year as will sophomore defensive tackle Justin Holt. Bene believes his defense, which held opponents to 7.2 points a game, can be just as good next season when key reserves such as Jaylyn Juan and Jacob Ksiazek step into starting roles. Fittingly, Ksiazek scored the final touchdown of the night on a botched Chaparral punt inside its own 10.
Friday night was a perfect farewell to some of the seniors on defense, including team captains Jake Casteel and Austin Weaver.
With 11:41 left in the second quarter and Salpointe clinging to a 12-6 lead, Casteel hit Chaparral quarterback Sean Paul Brophy near midfield, causing him to fumble. Weaver scooped it up and returned it to the 4; one play later, fellow senior captain Jay Williams punched it in for a score.
Weaver delivered the championship trophy to Bene, a moment neither will forget any time soon.
“It’s insane. It’s all the hard work we’ve put in, 11 straight months in the weight room,” Weaver said as he cradled the trophy near midfield. “It’s awesome, it’s unbelievable.”