The joy of Salpointe Catholic making the 4A state title game for the second consecutive year came in the form of junior safety/receiver Lathan Ransom leaping continuously alongside an equally jubilant Mario Padilla like they were on pogo sticks.
Ransom jumped high in the air toward his parents when he saw them approaching on the field after Salpointe’s convincing 53-6 win over Sahuaro last night at Mountain View High School in a 4A state semifinal game. He lost his balance and barreled over his dad, Nathan, falling to the ground and knocking his dad down with him.
They laughed on the ground, Lathan continuing to hug his dad, with mother Linda close by laughing hard as well — a moment that can’t be topped.
Nathan could certainly take the tackle. A military man who is the captain of the fire department at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, he looks like he can still play football after a stellar career that included a stint at Mount San Antonio College in California.
“I thought I might get hurt, but I am fine,” Nathan said, smile beaming.
He could also take the hit being the dad of a son who missed out on the opportunity of playing in the state championship game last year when the Lancers lost to Scottsdale Saguaro 28-7. A broken elbow kept Lathan out of last year’s game.
Nothing will hold him back this time, not even his dad, with the unbeaten Lancers (13-0) now preparing for a rematch against Saguaro for the state championship on Nov. 30 at Arizona Stadium.
“Well, it’s different for me. Last year I didn’t play, I had to watch on the sidelines,” said Ransom, a highly sought Division I prospect like teammate Bijan Robinson. “This year I’m so happy to play. I’m so happy, so excited. I’ve never felt this happy before.”
Asked what he’s looking forward to the most about playing against Saguaro at Arizona Stadium, Ransom said, “Some Friday Night Lights … all our fans from Tucson will be there to watch. It’s going to be super exciting.”
Super exciting is the way that Salpointe came out last night against a good Sahuaro team, one that exceeded expectations by reaching the state semifinals for the first time since 1999.
Ransom set the tone from the start with a jarring blitzing sack on Sahuaro’s first possession that forced the Cougars to punt from their own 11-yard line.
By the end of the first quarter, the Lancers’ scoring barrage included:
— Robinson rushing for a 35-yard touchdown.
— Robinson with a 59-yard scoring run.
— Defensive lineman Sergio Sanchez with a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
— Mario Padilla scoring on a 33-yard run.
— Ransom’s 71-yard touchdown reception off the pass from Devin Green.
Salpointe would take a 53-0 lead into halftime. A rolling clock started with 4 minutes left in the first half when the Lancers went up 47-0 on a 26-yard pass from Green to tight end Xavier Farhang, son of Arizona Bowl executive director Ali Farhang, who is on the Lancers’ staff.
The victory was not so much a game against an outmatched opponent — Sahuaro had won five straight games since losing at Salpointe 28-12 on Sept. 28 — but it was more about Salpointe hitting on all cylinders, totally focused, on a rematch against Saguaro’s powerhouse program in the title game.
Many of the Lancers called the win a statement game going into the game against Saguaro.
“It’s going to be a good rematch, we’re all looking for a different outcome this year,” Padilla said. “We’re in the home locker room now (as the No. 1 seed). Hopefully, things will be different.”
A strong start, like the Lancers showed against Sahuaro, will be key against a high-powered Saguaro team that is 12-1 and on an 11-game winning streak. In their last six games, the Sabercats have outscored their opponents 339-19.
In that same span, Salpointe has also dominated its opponents with a 325-62 margin.
“You get off to a quick start, and a couple of things break your way … We looked really fast tonight, which is good,” Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said. “Very proud of our kids. Very happy for them.
“We just got to now watch some film and do the very best job that we can to prepare the kids. We want them to go into that game conident. That’s what it’s all about. They’re young guys and confidence is a big thing. We can only achieve that if we work diligently the next two weeks.”
Some statistical notes …
— Robinson, who missed most of two games this season witha an ankle injury, broke Salpointe’s record for touchdowns in a season, scoring four times against Sahuaro, to bring his total to 35. Former Arizona player Cam Denson, who is now at NAU, had the previous record of 32 touchdowns in 2013. Robinson also now holds the Salpointe record for rushing yards in a season with 2,245 yards following last night’s 161 yards on 10 carries (all in the first half, he sat out the second half). Chris Hopkins set the previous record of 2,107 yards in 1991.
— A correction from yesterday’s story: Bene is fourth in coaching wins in Tucson high school football history with 174 victories, not third. Bene is close to passing former Tucson and Palo Verde coach Todd Mayfield to become the third-leading coach locally in career wins. Mayfield won 178 games. The late Vern Friedli, an Amphi legend, finished with a Tucson-record 331 wins with the Panthers and Jeff Scurran, who concluded his six seasons at Catalina Foothills this year, is at 228. Scurran also coached at CDO, Sabino and Santa Rita. …