Tucson High School went from trying to tackle 6-foot, 200-pound physical specimen Bijan Robinson to attempting to find 5-9, 165-pound Dae han Chang last night in Salpointe’s 27-3 win over the visiting Badgers.
Although lacking the size of Robinson — who had only three carries for 21 yards before exiting in the first quarter with an ankle injury — Chang’s determination measures up to that of Robinson. Chang finished with 90 yards on 18 carries with three touchdowns. He also had one reception for 42 yards.
Chang, a junior, said of his ability to carry the load with Robinson and fellow running Mario Padilla (groin) out, “It felt good because I’ve been playing all year, but I had my time to shine. I think I’ve been playing well.”
In goal-line situations, Salpointe coach Dennis Bene did not hesitate running the smallish, but bullish Chang between the lines. Chang had tough touchdown runs of 4, 2 and 1 yard. His last carry, he finally broke free for 46 yards, which was more than he had in his 17 previous carries.
“(Chang) is the epitome of high school football,” Bene said. “You take these kids and they have great desire, great teammates, and they work really hard. You can say all those things about Dae han. And then they get their opportunity and they make the most of it.
“He’s really highly respected by the coaches and he’s very much respected by his teammates and that’s what it’s about.”
Bene can rely on the tough running of Chang and sophomore Julian Robles (12 carries for 42 yards) with Robinson and Padilla out. When they will return is unknown at this point.
Some difficult games are ahead in the next three weeks against Sahuaro (5-1) at home and then on the road against Casa Grande (4-1) and CDO (4-1).
“Without Mario and Bijan, that’s a major, major loss to us, but the kids as a team, that was probably the best performance all year,” Bene said of the Lancers’ offensive production against Tucson behind quarterback Devin Green (9 of 16 for 169 yards) and a defense that limited the Badgers 89 total yards.
Robinson tried to give it a go after spraining his ankle in last week’s win over Glendale Cactus, but he was noticeably limping after his third carry. By halftime his shoulder pads were off and his night was over.
“We were going to go with it early and see how it felt,” Bene said. “He just didn’t trust it. So we pulled him. Thankfully we had some kids — Julian Robles and Dae han — step up. Those kids played wonderfully tonight.”
Salpointe junior Lathan Ransom was a standout on defense, although he is kicking himself for some dropped passes that negated long gains on offense. Still, his presence on defense as a safety lends to Salpointe’s dominance up front.
Tucson High had only seven first downs and did not cross the 50-yard line until late in the third quarter.
Being Tucson’s only remaining unbeaten team “shows all the hard work we put in and all the dedication, all the coaches have been calling great plays and we’ve been executing them,” said Ransom, who had his second interception of the season.
Tucson High moves on to its last four games of the season against only Phoenix-area competition. The Badgers are still atop the 6A Metro with a 3-0 record. Laveen Cesar Chavez visits the Badgers on Oct. 5 1-0 in region play and 3-3 overall.
The Badgers had injury concerns of their own playing without four starting linemen. Tucson running back Gary Love managed 54 tough yards of his own on 16 carries.
“It was a tough game (against Salpointe) … a lot of mistakes,” said Tucson coach Justin Argraves, noting an errant snap that lost 28 yards to the Tucson 1 and then a subsequent 10-yard punt that led to the Lancers’ second touchdown in the first quarter.
“We came in that first quarter and spotted them 14 right off the bat and that’s something when you’re playing top-tiered teams, you can’t do that. … How we handle this, how we handle adversity, is going to reveal our true character for the rest of the season. It’s going to set the tone.”