Gone is Bijan Robinson, the top running back in the state’s history.
Gone is Ohio State freshman Lathan Ransom and Salpointe’s top 11 tacklers from last season.
Gone is legendary coach Dennis Bene and some of his longtime assistant coaches.
But now gone is the doubt Eric Rogers and his staff can coach this new group of Lancers into the postseason.
Behind the efficient arm and playmaking ability of junior quarterback Treyson Bourguet, Salpointe improved to 5-0 and reached the qualifying amount of games for the postseason Saturday with its 35-6 win at Mountain View in the Mountain Lions’ season-opener.
“We’re back. We’re healthy. We’re playing our mind out.” — @SCLancerNation QB @treysonbourguet after leading the Lancers to a 5-0 start, qualifying them for the postseason. He completed 13 of 17 passes for 217 yards with four TDs and an INT in the 35-6 win over Mountain View. pic.twitter.com/SJRu3NfV7C
“With this new coaching staff we had to work everything in, almost like a whole new team,” said Bourguet, who completed 13 of 17 passes for 217 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.
“Game by game, day by day, week by week, we’re getting better and better. We’re playing our heart out, 5-0, and we’re looking to finish 6-0.”
Hard to fathom but Salpointe can complete a perfect regular season in such an imperfect year with a COVID-19 outbreak causing a two-week cancellation of games earlier in the season.
The Lancers unbeaten and ranked No. 4 in the Open Division with their last regular season game at Scottsdale Desert Mountain on Friday is a testament to the coaching ability of Rogers and his staff.
Job first-year coach Eric Rogers and his staff are doing after @SCLancerNation‘s coaching and player changes is remarkable. Lancers 5-0 after today’s 35-6 win at Mountain View. Rogers believes the Lancers must learn from the game, although it was a win, especially on defense. pic.twitter.com/N8Rlh73gtI
All the off-the-field distractions and changes have not derailed the Lancers.
When Salpointe’s standing in the Open Division and its No. 2 ranking among the state’s 5A schools was brought up to Rogers, he said, “Honestly, we try not to even think about that. I’ll leave that up to the sportswriters and the media and all that … our job is to control what we can can control.”
That control is working. The Lancers are acting like they’ve been here before although many were on the sidelines or in junior varsity watching the likes of Robinson and Latham coached by Bene.
Senior tight end Fernando Torres is an example of that. He is making the most of his first taste of extensive playing time after waiting for his chance.
The 6-foot-2 and 210-pound target caught five passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns, the first two scores of his career.
Senior TE @2021FernandoT showed he can literally be big in @SCLancerNation‘s passing attack. Big target (6-2, 210) for QB @treysonbourguet caught 5 passes for 71 yards and two TDs in the Lancers’ 35-6 win over Mountain View. #AZPreps365 #ASThssports pic.twitter.com/8ojAaDmEr1
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to get this far,” Torres said. “All of those players, all of our defense (has seen changes), I give so much props. I tell the young guys on defense, ‘You guys are doing a hell of a job.’ They need to keep going and keep riding with it.
“Our defense is one heck of a squad and with the offense, we have a lot of guys that didn’t play last year like including myself that are getting reps now and starting do big things. I’m glad to see that.”
Because COVID-19 has altered the scheduling of this season, Saturday’s game had the uncommon element of a team playing its season opener against a team in midseason form in its fifth game.
Mountain View looked like a team playing its first game with crucial penalties, tallying 10 for 85 yards. At one point, the Mountain Lions had a first-and-goal at the Salpointe 7 and three penalties later, including a personal foul call, they had first-and-goal from the Lancers’ 45.
Southpaw @MtnLionFootball QB @G_ciaccio2021 completed 19 of 26 passes for 112 yards with TD and was also dangerous with his feet with 11 rushes for 36 yards in the 35-6 loss to Salpointe. Mtn View beset by 10 penalties for 85 yards in its season opener. #ASThssports #AZPreps365 pic.twitter.com/rZ1YXmFJCm
“It’s a weird year we’ve got going on,” said Mountain View senior quarterback Giovanni Ciaccio. “I appreciate that we played Salpointe as our first game because I feel it’s a great wakeup call for our team as in physicality, skill set. Salpointe’s a great team and it was just a great game to open up to because we got to see what it’s like to play the best in Tucson.”
Rogers admitted that Salpointe’s coaches did not know what to expect from Matt Johnson’s Mountain Lions because they had no game film.
They heard the Mountain View junior varsity team installed a wishbone in their game against Salpointe and were concerned Johnson would try the same.
Johnson, who won a state title at Ironwood Ridge in 2012, did not use a wishbone but Ciaccio was difficult to defend running out of the pocket. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 112 yards with a TD and ran 11 times for 36 yards, constantly avoiding tacklers.
“We missed a lot of tackles but that quarterback is elusive,” Rogers said. “He knows how to get away from trouble. He’s quick and a little slippery, if you want to call it that.”
Although this normally would be the midway point of Salpointe’s season, the Lancers have plenty to learn from how they defended Ciaccio, Rogers said.
“I thought they did a really good job of balancing out and giving us different looks and trying different things,” Rogers said. “We just had to play our defense, just buckle down and play assignment football and actually we missed a lot of assignments tonight.”
After David Cordero (10 rushes for 109 yards) put Salpointe ahead with a 7-yard touchdown run in the first possession of the game, Mountain View answered with a 63-yard scoring drive in 15 plays.
Ciaccio capped it with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Zamir Pierce with 2:11 left in the first quarter. The PAT failed and Mountain View trailed 7-6.
Bourguet then threw touchdown passes in three of Salpointe’s last four possession of the first half to create separation from Mountain View.
His scoring strikes — 11 yards to Kam Gambrell with 54 seconds left in the first quarter, 78 yards to Elijah Barclay with 11:11 left in the second quarter and 2 yards to Torres with 18 seconds left to halftime. Salpointe took control by halftime leading 28-6.
Bourguet guided Salpointe to a touchdown in the Lancers’ first possession of the second half, connecting again with Torres on a 7-yard pass to put the Lancers ahead 35-6 with 5:36 left in the quarter.
He left the game for good, allowing backup Dylan Dreis to gain some experience. Dreis completed all four of his attempts for 46 yards.
Bourguet mentioned he “knew it all along” the Lancers could return to being in the Open Division after reaching that level last season.
“It really was just noise from the outside saying, ‘Salpointe’s not going to be the same. Salpointe lost too much. Salpointe lost Bijan and has a new coaching staff,'” he said. “We all knew. We’re the same team. Salpointe is a tradition. It’s a winning tradition. We just win. That’s what we do.
“Being 5-0 right now, undefeated … it’s just what we do.”
Palo Verde 10, Santa Rita 0
Earlier Saturday, Palo Verde won its opener behind quarterback LJ Miller’s 34-yard touchdown run with 4:44 left in the second quarter and Tristan Spalding’s 32-yard field goal.
Santa Rita (0-2) next is scheduled to host Cholla while Palo Verde is slated to travel to Flowing Wells (0-2) on Friday.
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
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.