Two Southern Arizona high schools from small locales will travel Saturday morning up I-10 to the big city for a shot at the state championship trophy.
Santa Cruz of Eloy, located 50 miles northwest of Tucson, has a population of nearly 20,000.
Benson is 45 miles southeast of Tucson and has nearly 5,000 citizens.
Santa Cruz, which has won seven state titles, has not captured one since 1990 while Benson has have never taken home a championship trophy after reaching the title game three times previously.
One of the storied programs will make history when Santa Cruz faces Benson in the 2A state title at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
In a normal year, this game would have been scheduled at a Tucson-area high school because this city is right between Eloy and Benson, but COVID-19 restrictions in Pima County do not allow for that to happen.
Santa Cruz leads the series 3-1 with the Dust Devils winning big in recent years under seven-year coach Rishard Davis, 44-8 in 2016 and 49-0 in 2017. Benson’s lone win occurred in 1998 when it prevailed 20-14.
Davis and Benson coach Chris Determan have coached two of the most successful programs in Arizona over the last few years.
Davis coached the Dust Devils to the 2017 2A title game in which it lost to Thatcher. They finished 12-1 that season. Davis has taken the program to at least the state semifinals four times now in his seven years.
Determan, in his 18th season at the school, has coached the Bobcats to the playoffs in five out of the last six years. They reached the Division V state championship in 2015 and lost to Joy Christian to finish 13-1.
Davis is 57-21 in his career at Santa Cruz while Determan is one of the top local active coaches in terms of victories with a 134-81-1 record in 20 years overall as a head coach.
Two of the most historical figures at both schools have passed away this year — running back Benny Malone of the famed Malone brothers at Santa Cruz and Mitch Hoopes, the former standout Arizona punter who played in the NFL and experienced a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys.
Hoopes, of the Class of 1971 at Benson, is the lone Bobcat alumnus to reach the NFL. As part of the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl in 2015, Hoopes received the NFL’s “Golden Football” celebrating those who played in the Super Bowl with ceremonies involving their high schools.
Soon after he was contacted by the NFL, Hoopes called Benson athletic director Darin Giltner to let him know he would not be able to make it to Benson for the Golden Football ceremony before a game. He asked his basketball coach at the school, Max Valkingburg, to present the football.
“It meant a lot to me that Mitch chose me to represent him and this honor that Benson High School was receiving,” Valkingburg told the Sierra Vista Herald/Review.
Valkingburg coached Hoopes to the 1971 2A state championship with the basketball team. Hoopes’ football coach Mike Hayhurst was also close to him. Hoopes invited Valkingburg and Hayhurst to be his guest at Cowboy Stadium to watch the NFC championship game with Washington before the Cowboys reached the Super Bowl in 1975.
In addition to Determan taking Benson to the 2015 title game, the Bobcats reached the 1978 title game under Hayhurst and the 1994 championship with Pete Bearse as coach. The school lost to St. Johns in both of those games.
Art Malone, and his younger brother Benny, who went on to success at ASU and the NFL, was part of Santa Cruz’s first state title team in 1965. The Dust Devils finished 12-0 that season.
More than 4,000 fans at Flowing Wells watched the Caballeros lose 56-12 to Art Malone and Santa Cruz in the opening round of the playoffs in 1965. The Dust Devils beat coach Larry Hart’s team 26-14 earlier that season.
“Give me Art Malone,” Hart told the Tucson Citizen after that game. “He has to be the best back in the state — bar none.”
Benny was the top performer of the 1969 regular-season unbeaten team that also won a state crown, the Dust Devils’ third in five years under coach Lonnie Foster. Santa Cruz opened that season with a 19-8 win over visiting Canyon del Oro as Benny Malone scored on two runs, including a 71-yard burst.
Benny died in March at age 68, eight years after his older brother passed away.
Both played for legendary coach Frank Kush at ASU. Benny starred with the Sun Devils from 1971-73. ASU had a 32-4 record with him, winning the Fiesta Bowl in each of the three seasons that he was a member of the backfield. He went on to play in the NFL for six seasons.
Art Malone played seven seasons in the NFL after his ASU career came to a close. The Malone brothers went from growing up in Eloy to being selected in the second round of the NFL draft — Art by the Atlanta Falcons and Benny by the Miami Dolphins.
The Cade Brothers — Mike and Mossy Cade — also went on to the NFL from Santa Cruz as defensive backs after being part of the Dust Devils’ dominating program in the late 1970’s. Santa Cruz won three straight titles from 1978 to 1980 under three different coaches (in order) — Jay Denton, Eddie Jones and Jim Ewan.
Mike and Mossy Cade were selected to the Arizona Republic’s All-Century High School team in 1999.
Mike was a second-team honoree at running back who went on to play at ASU. He rushed for 299 yards and six touchdowns in the 1978 3A state title in a 40-36 win over Willcox.
Mossy was a first-team selection who starred at Texas. He was the state’s player of the year as a senior in 1979. He also earned 12 individual state track titles.
Eddie Cade, a younger cousin, was a standout running back/defensive back who graduated from Santa Cruz in 1990 and played at ASU before being with the New England Patriots in 1995.
Santa Cruz’s fifth NFL player was Levi Jones, who also went on to play at ASU as an offensive tackle. He was a first-round draft pick in 2002 by the Cincinnati Bengals and played in the NFL for eight seasons. Jones was part of four struggling Santa Cruz teams from 1993-96, not once going to the playoffs. He attended ASU on an academic scholarship and walked on to the football team.
The Dust Devils’ leading rusher Hunter Ogle, one of the best players in the state with 1,852 yards on 173 carries with 23 touchdowns, comes from a family steeped in tradition with the program. His grandfather Bryant earned all-region honors in football and baseball at Santa Cruz in the mid-1970s.
The Ogle family name will continue on next year with Wyatt, who is a junior quarterback with the Dust Devils. Older brother Bryant III also was a standout football player and wrestler. All of the Ogles are elite wrestlers.
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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.