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Rogers, “amazing” staff, lead diligent Salpointe back to state title game


Eric Rogers has coached Salpointe to a state title game in only his second season as head coach (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Salpointe coach Eric Rogers was soaked from the water poured on him by his jubilant players when athletic director Phil Gruensfelder approached him apprehensively at the middle of the field.

Gruensfelder was a bit concerned he would get wet by Rogers, who understandably was not holding back from this moment.

“Come here!” Rogers said.

With almost as much aggression of a Damian Coley sack, Rogers went for it and bear-hugged Gruensfelder.

They were not only drenched in water but also satisfaction following Salpointe’s 29-17 win over visiting Goodyear Desert Edge in the 5A state semifinal game on Friday night.

Only 22 months previously, Gruensfelder and Salpointe’s brass had the unenviable task of replacing a legend, Dennis Bene, who stepped down after two decades of continuing the tradition of excellence and state championship appearances established by Ed Doherty and Pat Welchert dating to 40 years ago.

Rogers was not the first hired — the job initially went to long-time staffer Todd Schulte, who wanted to remain devoted to being a math teacher at the school — and the buzz from local football circles was mostly questioning whether Rogers could keep the program at an elite level.

Those questions were answered in a resounding way Friday night after Rogers joined Doherty, Welchert and Bene as head coaches to lead the Lancers to a state championship game.

No. 2 Salpointe (11-2) will play top seed Scottsdale Horizon, led by former Arizona player and Marana head coach Andy Litten, on Friday at Sun Devil Stadium for the 5A state title.

“What a surreal ride, I’m so proud of these kids, from where we started to where we got here,” said Rogers, who is 18-3 in his two seasons as the Lancers’ head coach after serving as an assistant, freshman and junior varsity head coach at the school for 14 seasons.

“The kids poured their heart and soul into this thing. They’ve worked so extremely hard. Our coaching staff deserves all the credit. They’re absolutely amazing. They’re working their tails off. We’ve got one more game.”

It was a fitting scene for Salpointe to clinch the state championship berth at Ed Doherty Stadium on the 40th anniversary of the Lancers’ first title appearance, when the late Doherty was the coach. Friday’s victory marked the first time Salpointe advanced to the state championship on its home turf.

Doherty’s 1981 team, led by running back/linebacker Jeff Heidrick, reached the AAA state title game by beating Mesa 15-13 at Mesa Westwood High School. The Lancers lost to Phoenix Trevor Browne 20-0 in the championship at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

Welchert’s 1991 team, captained by running back Chris Hopkins, advanced to the 5A state championship by beating Phoenix Brophy Prep 33-17 at Arizona Stadium. Salpointe lost 28-13 to Phoenix St. Mary’s in the title game at Sun Devil Stadium.

Bene coached the 2013 team to the championship behind running back Cam Denson — who was on the sidelines Friday. The Lancers beat Glendale Deer Valley 55-7 at Marana High School before defeating Scottsdale Chaparral 46-20 in the Division II championship at Arizona Stadium.

Bijan Robinson and Salpointe reached the 4A state championship in 2017 by beating Peoria Sunrise Mountain 49-27 at Glendale Ironwood High School. The Lancers lost to Scottsdale Saguaro 28-7 in the championship game at Arizona Stadium.

Robinson and safety Lathan Ransom led Salpointe back to the 4A state title game in 2018 by beating Sahuaro 53-6 at Mountain View High School in Marana. The Lancers again lost to Saguaro 42-16 in the championship at Arizona Stadium.

After two years of being in an underdog role in the Open Division playoffs — losing in the semifinals to powers Chandler and Chandler Hamilton in the Phoenix area — Salpointe is back in the championship playing in its classification of 5A.

“I’ve played with players like Bijan Robinson, Lathan Ransom, Bruno Fina, Jonah Miller … it’s endless names that go on to the next level,” said senior quarterback Treyson Bourguet, who played with the Lancers in those Open Division losses the previous two years. “Playing with those teams kind of taught me a lot of lessons that I put to work for my senior year.

“I’ve been able to take some leadership roles that not a lot of people would have. This team is special. I’ve been on some really great teams but this team is not like any other.”

Treyson Bourguet and Anthony Wilhite (21) combined for more than 200 yards rushing (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Bourguet outdueled Desert Edge quarterback sensation Adryan Lara, who has committed to Washington State, by accounting for three touchdowns, two via the pass and another in his newfound role as a dangerous runner.

Bourguet completed 7 of 9 passes for 143 yards without an interception — he’s thrown only three all season compared to 29 touchdowns — and rushed 11 times for 72 yards.

Lara finished 17 of 29 for 144 yards with a touchdown but he threw an interception that was returned 30 yards for a score by cornerback Antonio Martinez, allowing Salpointe to seize momentum early in the third quarter after Desert Edge led 14-13 at halftime.

Bourguet’s older brother Trenton, an Arizona State quarterback who played for Litten at Marana, was also in attendance Friday.

The matchup with Litten brings an interesting dynamic to the game against Horizon for Treyson because of the background of his brothers (also Coben, a wide receiver) playing for Litten at Marana.

“Coach Litten has done an amazing job over there,” Treyson said. “That’s someone I grew up with, looking up to him on Friday nights, watching my brothers. He just has all my respect.”

As good as Bourguet, running back Anthony Wilhite II (31 rushes for 149 yards) and receiver Dylan Dreis (three catches for 71 yards) were against Desert Edge, the Lancers’ defense was the difference.

Desert Edge’s Aundre Gibson returned kickoffs of 65 and 74 yards deep into Salpointe territory in the first quarter but the Scorpions came up empty on fourth-down incompletions on both possessions — stalling at the Lancer 30 and 38.

Treyson Bourguet, meanwhile, engineered a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive culminating on his 1-yard touchdown run to put Salpointe ahead 7-0 with 7:01 left in the first quarter. Bourguet had a 22-yard run and completed both of his pass attempts for 35 yards in the drive.

On another fourth down play at Salpointe’s 46, Desert Edge finally converted and Christopher Cordero broke free for a 46-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game at 7.

Lara started to find his rhythm in Desert Edge’s next possession completing all three of his passes for 76 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown pass to Vinny Mansfield giving the Scorpions a 14-7 lead with 6:11 left in the half.

Salpointe responded with a 14-play, 82-yard drive that culminated on Bourguet’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Wilhite with 45.1 seconds left before halftime. The point-after attempt was blocked and Desert Edge secured a 14-13 lead at the break.

“We knew it would be a dogfight all throughout the game,” said Wilhite, who did not look at all fatigued following his 31 rushes. “We wanted to come out and execute, hit them hard.”

Wilhite’s seven straight runs to start the second half took Salpointe 66 yards to the Desert Edge 3. Owen Lynch’s 20-yard field goal with 7:25 left in the third quarter put the Lancers ahead 16-14.

Three plays into Desert Edge’s next possession, Martinez converted his pick-6 to increase the lead to 23-14 with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter. Martinez, who at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds is often matched against taller receivers, has six interceptions this season.

Desert Edge had a long possession of its own that resulted in a 22-yard field goal by Eric Balderas that cut Salpointe’s lead to 23-17 with 11:50 remaining. Lara engineered the 17-play, 77-yard drive that included nine carries by Cordero for 38 yards.

Salpointe was forced to punt and Desert Edge gained possession at its 18-yard line with 7:33 left.

To start the drive, Lara completed his first four passes for 27 yards and Cordero ran five times for 21 yards. Desert Edge had a first down at the Salpointe 30 with 4:25 left.

Lara then threw an incomplete pass, was stopped at the line by middle linebacker Joey Sumlin (Kevin Sumlin’s son) and then was sacked by safety Davian Miranda-Carrasco on a blitz to force fourth-and-16 at the Salpointe 36.

Lara again felt immediate pressure from the perimeter from Coley, who made the crucial sack at the Desert Edge 49 with 2:40 remaining.

“Coach said to widen out because that big guard, he was too slow … I was locked in the whole time,” Coley said. “I was out for heads on that play.”

Salpointe defensive end Damian Coley closes in on the sack (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

After six straight runs by Wilhite, including one for a first down, Salpointe took the game down to 3 seconds with a fourth-and-1 play at the 26. Bourguet lofted a pass to the 6-foot-4 Dreis in the end zone as time expired to add the exclamation point to the 29-17 victory.

Rogers praised Arizona distance-throwing great Carla Garrett, Salpointe’s long-time strength and conditioning coach, a holdover from the Bene era, as being a difference for the monumental win.

“We knew this was going to be a ground-and-pound game,” Rogers said. “Our weight-room preparation, our conditioning preparation, what we do on a day-to-day basis, this is the accumulation of that. This is what it all comes down to when we can drive the field when we needed to, get first downs like we needed to and put the game away.

“And that starts with Coach Garrett and their effort and their work.”

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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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