Tucson High won the 1970 state football championship with such authority that it forever changed the standard for high school football in this city.
The era of the Super Program was born.
The ’70 Badgers went 12-0. They clobbered Phoenix Sunnyslope 54-16 in the title game during an era when nobody scored 50 and rarely 40. Here’s the impressive part: The ’70 Badgers, coached by Ollie Mayfield, produced 18 college players.
At a time when college football recruiting was mostly regional, Mayfield’s players signed scholarships with Oklahoma, Wisconsin, USC, Pitt and Arizona.
It didn’t take long for Amphitheater to become a 1970s (and ’80s and ’90s) Super Program, followed by runs from Sahuaro, Sabino, Sunnyside, Mountain View, Canyon del Oro, Ironwood Ridge and Cienega.
The sleeping giant was long Salpointe Catholic, which reached the state championship games of 1981 and 1991, but because it insisted on playing in the state’s highest classification — now known as 6A — it never quite matched the consistent excellence of, say, Sunnyside’s Richard Sanchez and Sahuaro’s Howard Breinig.
All of that has changed.
The Lancers, who have found a more appropriate level, Class 4A, are sleeping no more.
Four years ago, after Dennis Bene coached Salpointe to an empowering 14-0 state title, routing mega-power Scottsdale Chaparral, Bene suggested the 2013 Lancers were the best team in Tucson history.
His teams have averaged almost 11 victories per season over the last decade. That’s Vern Friedli and Jeff Scurran territory.
Salpointe plays Scottsdale Saguaro for the 4A championship at noon Saturday at Arizona Stadium. On a statewide basis, Saguaro is the kingpin of Arizona’s football kingdom, winning seven state titles and an average of 13 games a season dating to 2005.
Which is almost impossible.
So it would take something close the best team in Tucson history to beat the Sabercats. Is Salpointe that good? Is it Tucson High-1970 good?
“That Tucson team would dominate today,” said Todd Mayfield, Ollie’s son, who coached Palo Verde to the 2005 state championship and spent more than 30 years coaching high school football in Tucson.
“But I think Salpointe is closing the gap. Saguaro just reloads every year, but Dennis is doing a good job of reloading, too.”
Those who benefit will be the fans at Arizona Stadium. It’s rare that a 4A championship game showcases the kind of talent Salpointe and Saguaro put on the field.
“The difference between 1970 and 2017 is that Salpointe and Saguaro don’t play the week-to-week tough games the way Tucson High did in ’70,” said Mayfield. “There were more established coaches in the ’70s, men who coached for years and years. Everybody seemed to be good. There were few breathers.
“Now you get only a couple of tough games on your schedule, but those couple of games are exceptionally difficult. Saguaro and Salpointe are year-round programs. That’s the way the best teams have to do it now.”
Salpointe and Saguaro both have marquee names: Sabercats quarterback Max Massengale will play at Air Force. Running back Josh Bradley and receiver Zach Wilson are as good as anybody in the state.
While the Lancers have two high-profile players — tackle Matteo Mele and running back Bijan Robinson — the strength of the club is from the rank and file.
Senior linebacker Andrew Sayre, a third-generation Lancer football player, is Bene’s Swiss army knife, filling in wherever needed. He’s made 71 tackles. Senior defensive end Brian Corrales, with 65 tackles, is outstanding.
So many other Lancers — Derick Bush, Chris Aguirre, Joshua Pasos, Mario Padilla — have made it possible to get this far.
Scurran, who coached Catalina Foothills to the state championship game a year ago, losing to Saguaro — who else? — has played both over the last two seasons. Scurran, who has three state championships in his personal trophy case, knows a good team when he sees one.
“Clear and simple, I don’t think Saguaro is what they were when we played them last year,” he said. “They’ve still got four or five kids who are top college prospects, but last year it was ridiculous. They had 15 or 16. The wild card in this game is Salpointe’s offensive line; it is outstanding.”
Mele and his offensive-line partners — Christian Massey, CJ Franks, Thomas Lares and Jason Villanueva — have spent 11 months preparing.
“Salpointe is a likable story,” said Scurran. “A lot of those kids come from Salpointe families. Clearly, these are the two best teams in 4A. Who do I like? Both of them.”