CHANDLER — In his last act as Salpointe’s coach on this evening, Dennis Bene led his players to their families and fans from the field at Hamilton High School to an adjacent fence where a large group of close ones waited.
“Let’s go, let’s go … go tell your parents you love them,” Bene said.
The players proceeded to do their school chant in unison showing their emotions following a 24-16 loss against No. 1 Chandler in the Open Division semifinal game.
Salpointe coach Dennis Bene leads his team to the fans for one last chant and show of appreciation. pic.twitter.com/XZAaxlDTTd
“I don’t regret anything,” Salpointe senior defensive end Luke Regina said. “This is the best four years of football, the best four years of my life.”
Salpointe, the fourth seed in the Open Division, ends its season 10-1. The record, although a good one, tells a minimal part of the Lancers’ story.
Bene, who is resigning, ends his 19-year career at Salpointe with one state title and 14 regional titles.
Bijan Robinson, bound for Texas, completed his storied career with 119 yards on 18 carries with a 50-yard touchdown run. He finished his career with 7,036 yards on 527 carries and 103 rushing touchdowns.
Lathan Ransom is moving on to Ohio State after getting 105 yards on five receptions. He also had a 35-yard kickoff return that set up Robinson’s 50-yard touchdown run to start the second half.
Developing leaders like junior offensive tackle Johah Miller and sophomore quarterback Treyson Bourguet will try to carry on the legacy.
“I love these guys. It sucks to see them all go,” Miller said through tears about his senior teammates. “I guarantee you every single one of these guys put their hearts on the field tonight.”
Chandler, ranked No. 17 nationally by MaxPreps, was supposed to win this game by a wider margin. They have at least seven Division I college prospects on their roster while Salpointe had Robinson, Ransom, offensive lineman Bruno Fina (UCLA) and a large group of seniors bent on proving themselves.
Salpointe lineman Jonah Miller ready take on leadership role for the Lancers next year as a senior. pic.twitter.com/GRypnTKLff
Bene mentioned earlier this week that his team must play mistake-free to beat Chandler.
Too many turnovers and mistakes sidetracked the Lancers in their loss to Chandler, which improved to 12-0.
After three turnovers in the first half on Chandler’s side of the field, the Lancers made what appeared to be the fatal mistake of snapping over the punter’s head. Zion Magalei recovered the ball in the end zone to put the Wolves ahead 24-16 with 7:46 left in regulation.
Salpointe then had another interception, Bourguet’s third of the game, a learning point for the sophomore.
After Chandler was forced to punt, Salpointe turned the ball over on downs. The Lancers were given new life when Chandler fumbled the ball at the Salpointe 30 with 1:11 left. The Lancers could not advance the ball and the game ended with the Lancers unable to execute laterals for a score.
Robinson finally got uncorked on the first offensive play of the third quarter, busting off a 50-yard scoring run untouched, nearly equaling his first-half total. He ran eight times for 52 yards before halftime, when Salpointe trailed for the first time this season.
Robinson’s run put Salpointe ahead 13-10 with 11:41 left in the third quarter. It also put him over the 7,000-yard rushing mark in his career.
Chandler went ahead 17-13 on Mike Keene’s 16-yard pass to Jalen Richmond with 9:13 left in the third quarter. A 32-yard field goal Dominic Chakraborty cut the lead to 17-16 with 1:07 left in the third quarter.
Salpointe DE Luke Regina is rightfully getting scholarship offers now. Fueled Salpointe’s tough defense as a senior leader. pic.twitter.com/bXYnn0Ui1g
Salpointe’s first three possessions extended into Chandler territory with each coming up empty.
The Lancers drove from their 41 to the Chandler 1 and were stopped on two running plays to force a turnover on downs.
Chandler’s Kentrell Williams Jr. stopped the next drive at the Chander 36 with an interception.
Salpointe coach Dennis Bene talks about how his team fought to the end against one of the best teams in the nation. pic.twitter.com/CevXb0MNwm
On the next drive, after starting with possession at the Chandler 30 after the Wolves were forced to punt deep in their territory, Salpointe immediately fumbled the ball away after a completed pass.
Salpointe’s defense showed resolve for most of the first half. The Lancers stopped Chandler after the Wolves drove to the Salpointe 12 with 10:30 left in the second quarter. Crew Peterman entered to make a 29-yard field goal to put Chandler ahead 3-0.
Emotional end to Salpointe’s season, the illustrious career of Bijan Robinson and coaching career of Dennis Bene. They have a lot to be proud of. pic.twitter.com/Mu2Wl5lyub
Salpointe finally struck on its next possession with Bourguet connecting on a 68-yard touchdown pass to Ransom, who outleaped the defender and ran it into the end zone with 9:53 left in the half to put Salpointe ahead 6-3.
Chandler scored on its next possession on an 11-yard pass from Keene to McEuen to go ahead 10-6 with 9:44 left in the half. Jaheim Taylor-Brown had a 47-yard run in the drive for the Wolves. Chandler’s leading rusher Dae Dae Hunter, hobbled by an ankle injury, rushed only one time for three yards in the second quarter.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.