Anchored by a shutout performance on defense and freshman quarterback Matt Avelar, No. 2 Salpointe took little time pulling away from No. 15 Tempe Corona del Sol, beating the Aztecs 41-0 at Ed Doherty Stadium on Thursday night in the first round of the 6A state playoffs.
Salpointe (9-2) will again host a game in the quarterfinals, playing No. 7 Williams Field (6-5) on Friday at 7 p.m.
“We take great pride in playing at home,” senior defensive end Elijah Rushing said. “We just have that mindset that we’re not going to lose here, and if I’m being honest, it definitely helps the mindset to just be at home and having that crowd to support you. It’s like a 12th man.”
In Friday’s win over Corona del Sol, the Lancers extended an early 14-0 lead to 28-0 with a pair of pick-sixes.
One was a 20-yard touchdown return from senior linebacker Orlando Gonzalez with a minute to go in the first quarter and a 74-yard touchdown return from senior defensive end Keona Wilhite with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter — before further extending its lead to 34-0 at halftime from field goals from 41 yards and 33-yards by junior kicker Kyah Francone to close out the second quarter.
“I’m super excited. Our kids played extremely hard,” Salpointe head coach Eric Rogers said. “We were disciplined. Defensively, we were outstanding, and we put some different coverages in this week and kind of mixed up some things that we were doing, and I think that kind of caused some havoc for them a little.”
Salpointe’s defense, led by Rushing, who unofficially finished with two sacks, and Wilhite, menaced Corona del Sol senior quarterback Connor Ackerley all evening, leading to multiple sacks, interceptions and tackles for losses.
“We were just playing our defense,” Rushing said. “Just playing Lancer football. Just playing our assignments, and you kind of got to see, we were just able to shut them out.”
Rogers praised the development of Rushing and Wilhite in their time thus far with Salpointe and what they have meant to the program on and off the field.
“They’ve been outstanding,” he said. “They take care of business in the classroom. They take care of business on the field. They take care of business in the community. They’re two outstanding, great friends, and great teammates. They make great choices. They freaking play their butts off for one another.
“It’s tremendous to have them on our team, and what they’ve done for our football team, our school and our community. It’s a blessing, there ain’t no doubt about it, a blessing.”
Rushing was equally complimentary of the Salpointe coaching staff for his development over the years.
“These are the best coaches in the city, if not the state,” he said. “You come here to do big things, and I was just blessed to be here.”
Salpointe got on the board with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Avelar to junior wide receiver Morgan Quiri with four minutes left in the first quarter. Following an interception by senior cornerback Armani Sheriff on Corona del Sol’s 12-yard line on the next possession, Avelar scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to put the Lancers up 14-0.
Avelar later capped off a 59-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to put Salpointe up 41-0 with 10 minutes left in the game.
“I thought Matt (Avelar) did a great job,” Rogers said. “He kept his composure. He obviously made a couple mistakes with the picks, but (they are) teachable, learnable things… I thought our offense had a little bit of a spark tonight, which was important for us. That’s what we needed. That’s what we were looking for.”
NOTE: Williams Field has former Arizona State quarterback Mark Campbell as its head coach. Former Arizona defensive back Kelvin Hunter, who played with the Wildcats from 1997-99, is the defensive coordinator.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU.