Gilbert — The season has officially come to a close for the Salpointe Catholic Lancers following a tough 14-10 road loss to the no. 2 Highland Hawks in the 6A Quarterfinals. While it was an absolutely crushing blow to the seniors on this year’s Lancer squad, the fact the team even made it to the quarterfinals this year is more than anyone predicted for them.
“Listen, they’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Salpointe coach Eric Rogers said. “I think this year we started 35 different kids, and ten of them were just on our offensive line alone. We’re a young, young team.”
At the start of the year, Salpointe was predicted to go 3-7 by almost everyone in the state. However, when all was said and done, the team finished up the season with a record of 6-4, snagging the No. 7 seed in the 6A playoffs. After taking down Williams Field last week 36-33 in double OT, the Lancers couldn’t pull out a win against the reigning 6A State Champs.
“Our coaching staff deserves a tremendous amount of credit,” Rogers said. “They’re phenomenal coaches and our kids our playing their guts out. As a head coach, when you sit back and you look at the big picture of everything, I’m as proud as can be.”
Things got off to a strong start for Highland after receiving the opening kickoff. It took less than two minutes for the Hawks to move the ball across the goal line, giving them a 6-0 lead with 10:04 left in the 1st. The kick was good, giving the Hawks an early 7-0 lead over the Lancers.
Salpointe was ready to play, though, and strategically burned a ton of time in the first quarter while progressing towards the end zone. With just 1:09 left in the first, the Lancers were able to put a touchdown on the board and a good extra point attempt to tie things up at 7.
The Lancers’ defense brought the heat on Highland’s following possession. On a quarterback sack, the Lancers were able to force a fumble and recover it at the 35-yard-line early in the second quarter.
From there, the Lancers were able to capitalize on the turnover, but they were forced to settle for a field goal to take a 10-7 lead with 8:03 left before the half.
On Highland’s following possession, Salpointe senior Mason Sanchez was able to force a fumble. It was recovered by the Lancers, giving them possession at the Highland 37-yard-line with 6:31 left before the half.
However, a fumble on the second snap of Salpointe’s following drive gave the ball right back to the Hawks at the 30.
Defense was determined to get a stop, and they did just that when junior Armani Sheriff snagged an interception. With just over five minutes left to play, the Lancers did their best to try to extend the lead before the half but ultimately ended up punting with 1:20 left to play.
Highland initially looked as if they were going to try to put a touchdown up before the half, but eventually let the time run off before going into the half trailing the Lancers 10-7.
Salpointe got the ball coming out of the half, but unfortunately an interception prevented the Lancers from further extending the lead. Instead, Highland was able to capitalize on the turnover with an 8-yard touchdown run and a good extra point to take a 14-10 lead over the Lancers with 8:38 left in the third.
The Lancers kept fighting the rest of the game, with defense doing a phenomenal job to keep them in the fight. Offensively, though, they just couldn’t get things going. Highland regained possession with under 3:00 remaining and was able to run out the remaining time to pick up a 14-10 win and advance to the 6A semifinals.
“We just needed to make one or two more plays,” Rogers said. “That’s what playoff football is all about. So hats off to [Highland], they’re a great coaching staff and football team.”
As the final seconds ran off the clock, it officially brought a close to the Lancer class of 2023 high school careers. Rogers knows, though, just because it’s the end of their high school career doesn’t mean their journey with football is complete.
“We’ve got a phenomenal senior class that’s done a ton for our program,” Rogers said. “I’ve got to find a good place for these seniors to go play some football. There’s a lot of them that want to go on and play and they should. They’re good football players so we’ll find them a spot.”
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @LittWithBritt