Salpointe Catholic’s football team is arguably off to the best start Southern Arizona has ever seen.
The 4-0 Lancers beat — blew out, rather — four quality opponents in a matter of 20 days, including last year’s Nevada state runner-up and a Southern California power, both of which they played on the road.
Yet, if you ask longtime coach Dennis Bene, they haven’t done anything yet. Even if Salpointe blows out Tempe Marcos de Niza tonight in one of the biggest regular-season games statewide this year, his opinion won’t change.
“The kids are committed to what we’re doing, they’re playing hard, they’re coachable, and I think my staff has done a great job,” said Bene, who is in his 13th season as head coach at Salpointe. “I’m please where we’re at but, at the same time, we’re 4-0 and haven’t won anything yet.”
Salpointe’s goal, of course, is to win a state title — the first
in school history — but the Lancers, coming off a much-needed bye week, aren’t getting ahead of themselves and are focused on the task at hand: beating the Padres tonight in a game that will be televised on Cox 7.
“We take every game as the biggest game for us because, ultimately, our goal is to win a state championship,” senior captain Jay Williams said. “But we’re not going to reach that goal if we take off a week because we don’t think that game is big because anything can happen.
“That’s what you have to do to win and that’s what you have to do to prepare for a state championship.”
While the Lancers have star wide receiver and UA verbal commit Cameron Denson on their side, Marcos de Niza boasts a star of its own in dual-threat quarterback Josh Eckley. Bene said the Padres’ quarterback is one of the best players in the state.
“I rarely use the word amazing, but I would say he’s amazing,” Bene said. “Our defense has their work cut out for them.”
Bene made the trip to Phoenix the last two Fridays to scout Eckley and the Padres, who are averaging 53 points a game. Bene compared the fast Padres to Encino (Calif.) Crespi, whom the Lancers beat 47-7 in their third game of the season.
It’s not clear if Eckley will be able go 100 percent tonight because he re-injured an ankle last week, but the Lancers’ defense will be ready regardless.
“They make their big plays on other defenses’ mistakes,” junior linebacker Taylor Powell said. “We just have to stay in coverage, make sure the D-line holds and that we do our assignments.”
Although Salpointe’s high-powered offense is averaging 47.5 points a game behind senior quarterback Andrew Cota, Bene said he’s most pleased with his defense. The Lancers have been playing lights-out, giving up only 21 points in four games.
Tonight has all the makings of a huge game: It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 with several star players. It’s Salpointe’s Hall of Fame night, and coaches from Boise State are expected to be on the sideline to get a live look at Cota.
However, for the Lancers, it’ll just be like any other Friday.
“It’s a big game, but we can’t really get too big-headed and over-hype it,” Cota said. “We just have to treat it like a normal game.”
Titans off to 4-0 start but face toughest test tonight
Todd Mayfield has Palo Verde off to its best start since 2000, when it began the season 5-0. The Titans can match that record tonight with a win at Coolidge, another 4-0 squad that Mayfield said is tougher than anyone they have faced so far.
“They have great speed on film and are the best offensive team,” said Mayfield, who is back with the Titans after a three-year hiatus. “It’s the biggest game for us by far.”
It’s impressive Palo Verde has managed to stay undefeated this far. The banged-up team had only 24 players suited up in last Friday’s 32-23 win over Amphitheater and is expected to have the same tonight against a team that has been to the state playoffs in each of the last three years.
“Those kids are used to winning,” Mayfield said. “That’s the mindset we’re trying to get back here.”
Badgers taking the clock back against Mesa High
When the Tucson High football team hosts Mesa High tonight, it will be the first time the two met since 1961.
Yes, 1961. The Jackrabbits won that game 40-6, taking the third straight game in the series.
Tucson tied with them 7-7 in 1958 and beat them 14-13 the year before that. So, if the Badgers can win their fourth straight game tonight, it’d be the first time since 1957 they beat the Jackrabbits. It’d also bring back some memories for Tucson’s 1945 undefeated state championship squad, which will be honored at tonight’s game.
The Badgers beat Mesa twice that season, 14-7 in the first meeting and 9-0 in the state final. Tucson won its third straight championship with legendary coach Rollin Gridley.
Schnell places second in Junior Pan Am Diving
Delaney Schnell, a 14-year-old freshman at Tucson High School, finished second behind Mexico’s Samanta Jimenez in the 14-15 girls platform finals of the Junior Pan American Diving Championships on Thursday at the UA’s Hillenbrand Aquatic Center.
Schnell, whom we featured in Thursday’s Star, won a Junior National Championship last month and also took home a silver medal in the 2011 Pan Am finals. She will now turn her focus to winning a state championship with the Badgers in November.
Nighthawks boys XC team continues to shine
Ironwood Ridge’s boys cross country team won the Division II championship at the Mt. Carmel Invitational in San Diego last weekend, as Jordan Hellebuyck, David Fernandez, Brandon McKay and Cal Skilsky all finished in the top 20 overall. The event had races separated by grade and gender and drew nearly 900 runners from 54 teams, mainly from California and Arizona.