Over the next six days, the Star will reveal our picks for Tucson’s best high school football coaches of all time. Our countdown continues today with Salpointe Catholic’s Dennis Bene, who helped the Lancers win their first state championship last fall.
No. 6: Dennis Bene
School: Salpointe Catholic
Years in coaching: 2001-present
Career record: 126-29
Achievements: More than three decades after playing in Salpointe’s first trip to the state finals in 1981, Bene coached the Lancers to their first title. Last season’s unblemished run to the state crown put Bene’s winning percentage above 80 percent in his 13 years with the Lancers. During his time at the helm, Salpointe has never had a losing season and advance past the first round of the state playoffs in nine of 11 attempts. However, last fall marked just the second time under Bene that the Lancers made it past the quarterfinals.
The Lancers competed in Class 5A-I until three years ago and struggled facing larger Phoenix-area schools in the postseason.
They haven’t had any trouble dominating Southern Arizona teams and have won 40 straight games against area teams, with the last loss coming in Week 6 of 2008 against Ironwood Ridge.
Bene, a former quarterback who graduated from Salpointe in 1984, served as an assistant under former coach Pat Welchert for two years and held the school’s career passing mark of 3,151 yards until he saw Lancers QB Ben Provost surpass it in 2000 with 4,235 yards.
Since then, Bene has produced three quarterbacks who passed for more than 4,000 career yards and had Tyler Graunke throw for a single-season city-record 3,372 yards in 2003.
The one record Bene still holds is for racking up 425 yards passing in a single game in 1983 as a senior.
Memorable moment: After not trailing all season, Salpointe fell behind 6-0 to Scottsdale Chaparral in the Division II state championship game at Arizona Stadium last year. But the undefeated Lancers stormed back with 26 straight points on their way to a 46-20 win to capture the program’s first state title in its 62-year history.
The Lancers’ defense had a pivotal goal-line stand, followed by Salpointe senior quarterback Andrew Cota connecting with star receiver Cameron Denson for a 98-yard touchdown pass.
Salpointe led 26-6 at the half before Chaparral scored early in the third quarter to make it 26-13, but Denson responded with an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
Bene was named the Star’s coach of the year while Denson, now a freshman on the UA football team, was named both the offensive and defensive players of the year.
From the archives: “I’m an alum, I’m a former player, and it means everything that we have the championship trophy at Salpointe now. I’m just so, so thankful the trophy is finally at Salpointe.” — Bene in the Nov. 30, 2013, Arizona Daily Star
Big number: 38. With success comes scouts. Bene has made Salpointe the first stop for college coaches visiting Southern Arizona, sending a total of 38 players on to play Division I college football during his tenure, including six from the 2012 team. Bene also sent five players each in 2002, 2006 and 2013.
Coming up: Find out who is ranked No. 5 in Wednesday’s Star.