With his third straight 4A Kino Region title in hand, as well as Salpointe’s overall record still unblemished, coach Dennis Bene has the enviable decision of how long he will play most of his starters in next Friday’s game against Vista Grande at Casa Grande.
The top-ranked Lancers are 9-0 overall and 4-0 in the region after the 42-14 win over Catalina Foothills on Senior Night and Homecoming last night. Vista Grande is in last place at 2-7 and 0-4.
“We just want to keep putting in work. We’re in a really good rhythm right now,” said Bene, whose Salpointe teams have won the last three region titles and 13 overall — with a state title — in his 18 years at the school.
“I respect Vista Grande. We need to stay sharp and work. The biggest thing is having a good week and getting a good tempo and staying injury-free. That’s the biggest thing. We have to stay healthy if we are gong to make a run at the end.”
Staying healthy was a sore subject, literally, in the middle portion of the season with the thunder-and-lightning backfield of battering-ram, hard-to-stop tailback Bijan Robinson and the ultra-quick, hard-to-spot athlete Mario Padilla.
Robinson was out for a couple of games and most of another with an ankle injury suffered at Glendale Cactus on Sept. 14 and Padilla was hurt with a groin injury the week before at home against El Paso Del Valle and did not return strong until the game at CDO five weeks later.
They looked unstoppable last night, combining for 215 yards on 13 carries, an average of 16.5 yards per carry, with three touchdowns.
Robinson appeared close to breaking a couple of runs the distance only to be tripped up. He finished with 87 yards on 10 carries. Padillla ran free on two of his runs, for 56 yards and another for a 67-yard score. He had 128 yards on three carries and also had four receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns, including a 57-yard score.
“It actually felt really good to get loose once in a while. It was really cool,” said Padilla, flanked by about 10 family members on Senior Night. “But credit to the o-line. They’re the ones who make my averages so high.”
Robinson, a junior, was relentless with his tough running, barreling over a would-be tackler for a 5-yard score in the second quarter. He said Catalina Foothills coach Jeff Scurran implemented a “good game plan” on him with multiple defenders “coming to the ball.” And true to Robinson’s character, he shifted praise to a teammate, mentioning quarterback Devin Green helped him and Padilla with the running game.
Green, also excelling on Senior Night, finished completed 7 of 11 passes for 130 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He did not attempt a pass in the second half after Salpointe established a 42-0 lead.
Salpointe’s defense was also stifling, led by a couple of sacks by linebacker Ray Figueroa. The Lancers did not allow Catalina Foothills to cross midfield until about 7 minutes remained in the fourth quarter with the game no longer in doubt.
After the game, Bene and Scurran embraced a couple of times in what appeared to be an emotional moment. Between them, they have compiled 441 wins at the high school level and were once on the same staff with Bene coaching under Scurran at Pima College.
Bene has 170 wins at Salpointe while Scurran has 271 at the high school level, including 227 in Tucson with Sabino, CDO, Santa Rita and Catalina Foothills. Adding his 25 wins at Pima and 10 with an Italian pro team, Scurran, 71, is at 306 career victories.
In the same breath as the late great Vern Friedli, who amassed 331 victories in his illustrious career at Amphi, Scurran and Bene are legendary high school coaching figures in Tucson.
“Dennis and I have been very close friends for a long time,” said Scurran, who added with a smile: “A lot of people don’t know that, but now it’s OK to say it. I really do love the guy.”
Salpointe coach Dennis Bene embraces Catalina Foothills coach Jeff Scurran after the game. The hugs have a lot of meaning. pic.twitter.com/EoRWpvy0V9
Scurran went on to say that Bene married a high school teacher aide from his days at Sabino.
“We kind of see the world very much similar,” he said. “I love the way he coaches. I’m really proud of what he’s done here at Salpointe. He deserves all the credit he’s getting now. I just hate to play him and I know he hates to play me.
“It’s a very tough week for the both us because we just as soon not play each other. We prefer to help each other, which we’ve done very tightly in the past when we haven’t been on the schedule.”
Bene said of Scurran, “He’s a legendary coach. You can never argue about the success and the championships he’s won. … He’s taught me a lot and for that I’m grateful.”
Catalina Foothills is now 4-5 overall and 2-2 in the 4A Kino with the regular-season finale at home against Sahuaro (7-2 and 3-1) on Friday. The Falcons, led by 99 yards rushing on 14 carries by senior Isaiah Bae against Salpointe, have a chance to make the playoffs if they upset the Cougars.
“We have a mathematical chance to make the playoffs. I’m not clairvoyant but last March I told these kids it’s all going to come down to the Sahuaro game,” Scurran said. “They’re a better team than we are, there’s no question about that. They don’t have the talent that these guys (Salpointe) have but they have got superior talent than what we do, that’s for sure.
“We’re just going to have to step up because we want to have the chance to make the playoffs and improve our game a lot.”