Salpointe Catholic made a strong case to be the best team in the state Friday night. In two weeks, the Lancers can officially prove it.
Senior quarterback Andrew Cota accounted for four scores and Salpointe’s defense held Peoria Liberty scoreless for more than three quarters as the top-seeded Lancers beat the Lions 45-14 and advanced to the Division II state semifinals for the second year in a row.
“Our defense came out and played tremendous out there,” said Arizona Wildcats commit Cameron Denson, who caught seven passes for 100 yards and a score and pulled in two interceptions. “We played as a whole group, as a team. Like I said, we’re not selfish, everyone does their own job and everybody came out and executed tonight.”
Salpointe (12-0) will face No. 12 Glendale Deer Valley on Friday at
7 p.m. at Marana High School with a chance to reach the state championship game for the first time since 1991. It would also be a first for coach Dennis Bene, who has been with the Lancers since 2001.
“Right now I’m just very happy for our players and my staff,” Bene said. “They’ve all worked so hard and I’m just very happy for them. It’s very rewarding that their hard work and diligence is paying dividends.”
Friday night’s win marked the 24th victory in the last 25 games for Salpointe, with the lone loss coming to Peoria Centennial in the state semifinals last year.
The Lancers have been playing with last season’s disappointment in mind.
“Last year we came up short and I still get emotional talking about it,” said Cota, who passed for 241 yards and rushed for another 101. “We just can’t let that happen again. I’m going to come out more focused than ever, we just have to be dialed in this week.”
Cota was sure dialed in Friday night. The Lancers jumped out to a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter despite running just 17 plays. Cota connected with Denson for a 24-yard gain on Salpointe’s first play from scrimmage then hit Kaelin Deboskie, another Arizona Wildcats commit, for a 25-yard touchdown.
Denson put a quick end to Liberty’s first drive when he intercepted quarterback Tyler Wyatt on the fifth play. After a few completions, including a 50-yard pass to Deboskie, Cota ran for a 15-yard score to put the Lancers up 14-0 less than six minutes into the game.
“Andrew was huge tonight,” Bene said. “He led us the way a senior quarterback should lead us. I thought he distributed the ball really well and made some really nice reads.”
With Liberty inside the Salpointe 35, the Lancers came up with a huge defensive stop on fourth-and-one; they went up 21-0 two plays later when senior Jay Williams broke lose for a 45-yard touchdown run. Williams finished with 118 yards and two scores.
Friday night marked the first time Salpointe gave up multiple touchdowns and more than nine points in a game this season, though Liberty was held scoreless until midway through the fourth. That was impressive considering Bene called Liberty the best offense the Lancers faced this year.
“We just flew around and made plays,” said junior linebacker Taylor Powell, who had one of Salpointe’s four interceptions. “I’m really excited we have another opportunity to prove to the state something that they don’t know.”