2023 High School Football

Salpointe’s defensive pressure too much for Marana in Lancers’ 35-14 victory

Salpointe’s Keona Wilhite (50) and Richard Archuleta (6) track down a Marana ball carrier in the Lancers’ 35-14 win over the Tigers on Friday night (Lexie Fegan/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

Salpointe Sackmasters?

Terror Twins?

Lancer Lockdowns?

Eventually, Arizona commits Elijah Rushing and Keona Wilhite will have a nickname befitting of their dominance, displayed for the first time in their senior season at Salpointe Friday night in a 35-14 win over a commonly-potent Marana offense under third-year coach Phillip Steward.

The victory was the 27th straight for Salpointe against Southern Arizona teams dating to the 2017 season when Jamarye Joiner and Cienega defeated the Lancers 30-20.

The 14-point total is the second-lowest of Steward’s tenure. His offense, behind the play of Jason Wood and graduated Elijah Joplin at quarterback last season, averaged 47.8 points a game.

“Watching those two (Rushing and Wilhite) tonight, they did what they’re supposed to do,” said Steward, who played major-college football at Houston before a stint with the Rams of the NFL. “They came out here. They played good football. They got after it.

“It was good to see. I told my tackles, ‘Hey, you’re trying to college, block one of those guys, and those schools will be coming after you.’ It was good for our guys to see that level of play.”

Wilhite served notice from the start that he and Rushing will be a terror for opposing offenses. He sacked Wood on the first offensive play of the game.

Wood was sacked five times in the game — Rushing had two of them — and was constantly under duress.

He finished with minus-14 yards on the ground on 12 carries.

Marana’s rushing game never got on track, and Wood could not get into a consistent rhythm engineering the Tigers’ usually potent, fast-paced, no-huddle, short-read attack.

The Tigers mustered only 22 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Wood finished a respectable 21-of-35 for 181 yards with a touchdown, but he started 8-of-16 for 59 yards.

“My thoughts coming into it (the game), was ‘Go, go, go,'” Wilhite said. “After getting that (first) sack, proved I can do it. I just kept the tempo up.”

Marana’s possessions in the first half ended with three punts, a fake punt that did not result with enough yardage for a first down and a missed field goal.

Salpointe’s defense pinned the Tigers at their 1-yard-line after a Lancer field-goal attempt was blocked, giving Marana the ball at its 7 with 3:26 left in the first quarter.

Rushing’s sack of Wood, a loss of 9 yards, forced Marana to punt from its 1.

Salpointe gained possession at the Marana 25 after the punt, and senior running back Jaxson Banhie — wearing Bijan Robinson’s No. 5 — looked like the Lancer legend breaking a couple of tackles and racing to the endzone for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:21 left in the first quarter to open the scoring.

After a three-and-out by Marana on its next posession, Salpointe got the ball at the Marana 47.

Two plays later, senior quarterback Taylor Nagore connected with Richard Rivera for a 40-yard touchdown with 11:48 left in the second quarter. Rivera broke free from a tackle after catching a short pass, found an open seam and darted to the end zone to give Salpointe a 14-0 lead.

Nagore had an efficient performance, completing 14 of 19 pass attempts for 139 yards with a touchdown while also rushing for two scores. He gained 82 yards on 11 carries, getting every ounce out of his 6-foot-1 and 178-pound frame.

Nagore said of being the starting quarterback as a senior after toiling in the program the previous three years: “It’s the greatest; it’s everything for me.”

He is in the second year in the varsity, playing last year behind Fredo Sotelo. He was on the junior varsity team when Treyson Bourguet and Sotelo were the two top quarterbacks in 2021.

“I’ve worked three years,” he said. “I’ve sat behind Fredo and Treyson. To finally have my time is a blessing.”

He had rushes of 11 and 28 yards and completed two pass attempts for 17 yards in Salpointe’s second drive of the second half, culminating with his 4-yard touchdown run with 2:48 left in the third quarter that put Salpointe ahead 21-0.

Marana finally got on the board with 1:05 remaining in the third quarter when Wood connected with Dezmen Roebuck for a 9-yard touchdown pass.

In that possession, Wood completed a 43-yard pass to Roebuck, a junior who was offered a scholarship by Arizona after his freshman season.

Roebuck boosted his already-robust profile with eight receptions for 117 yards against Salpointe’s stringent defense.

“When the ball’s in my hands, I can just score,” said Roebuck, who is 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds. “They (the Wildcats) are definitely showing a lot of love. It’s my hometown … they’re showing a lot of love.”

An interception by Salpointe’s Dinos Drossos and return of 20 yards gave the Lancers the ball at the Marana 1. Nagore scored from there on a run to give Salpointe a 28-7 lead with 11:20 left.

Orlando Gonzalez, Salpointe’s standout starting middle linebacker, also showed he can be a breakaway threat as a running back with a 63-yard burst for a score with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.

The game did not begin until after 8:30 p.m., more than a 90-minute delay, because of lightning in the area starting around 6:15 p.m.

Salpointe travels out of state on Friday to face Los Angeles Bishop Alemany, which has started 0-2.

Marana’s scheduled home game with Tucson on Friday has shifted to the Badgers’ field because the Tigers’ new turf has not been installed. Tucson is 1-0 after beating visiting Phoenix South Mountain 62-24 on Friday.


Head coach: Eric Rogers
Lancers compete in the 6A Central. Bold are playoff games. Playoff games at 7 p.m.
9/1at Bishop Alemany (CA)W5221
9/8at Shadow RidgeW4924
9/15Valley VistaW506
9/29Desert VistaW3424
10/6Corona del SolW2920
10/13at LibertyL049
10/20Mountain PointeW3526
10/27at SaguaroW2114
11/3at Brophy PrepL1214
11/9Corona del SolW410
11/17Williams FieldW3525

11. MARANA (5-5)

Head coach: Phillip Steward
Tigers compete in the 5A Southern. Bold are playoff games. Playoff games at 7 p.m.
8/25at SalpointeL1435
9/1at TucsonW437
9/8at HigleyL2429
9/15at Mountain ViewL3542
9/22Canyon del OroL2149
9/29at BuenaW550
10/6at SunnysideL617
10/20Desert ViewW498
10/27at Casa GrandeW429
11/9at ALA-Gilbert North


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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