Across a 20-day period, Salpointe Catholic played four football games, traveling by bus to Las Vegas, by air to Los Angeles, and playing host to two of Tucson’s most traditional football powers, Sabino and Sunnyside.
The Lancers won ’em all, 4-0, outscoring four “name” schools 190-21 in what is likely the most impressive start to a football season in Tucson history. As far as I can research, only two Tucson coaches, Amphi’s Vern Friedli and Sabino’s Jeff Scurran (now with Catalina Foothills), ever attempted such a bold opening gauntlet.
Rather than take a day off, kick back and absorb the Lancers’ work, coach Dennis Bene drove to Tempe on Friday to scout his team’s next opponent, Marcos de Niza. Bene was back in his office early Saturday morning.
Few would’ve suspected that Game 5 on Salpointe’s remarkable schedule might be the most difficult yet. But its Sept. 27 foe, Marcos de Niza (3-0), is averaging 63 points a game this year and has, like Salpointe, the look of a potential state champion.
“Our schedule has been brutal,” said Bene, who is in his 13th season at Salpointe. “I don’t think anybody expected us to be 4-0. But I had been telling people that we’re better than we were last year; they didn’t seem to believe me.”
Salpointe went 12-2 in 2012, part of a 54-9 run in Bene’s last five-plus seasons.
“This bye couldn’t have come at a better time; I could sense we didn’t have our legs against Sunnyside. It has been exhausting,” said Bene. “Now our kids have time to concentrate on academics while we tweak a few things as coaches.”
Numerically, Salpointe is in rhythm. It has scored 48, 49, 47 and 46 points in its victories. It has a reputation as a feared offensive team.
But more impressive has been the Lancers defense. Brandt Davidson , Austin Weaver , Taylor Powell, Jake Casteel , Kaelin Deboskie, Jay Williams , Justin Holt , among others, have limited four opponents to an average of 5.3 points a game.
Bene has assembled a capable and veteran defensive staff; it’s intriguing how diverse and effective it has been.
Defensive coordinator Joe Bernier graduated from Salpointe in 1989 and has been part of the coaching staff ever since. He is a teacher/administrator in TUSD. Defensive ends coach Dan Higgins , also a Salpointe grad, once coached at Marcos de Niza; he is in the fire safety business. The Lancers’ coaching tree also includes Rocco Bene , Dennis’ younger brother, who coaches special teams and linebackers. Rocco operates an asphalt/paving business.
Defensive line coach Mark Neal , a UA grad and football letterman from 1971 to 1973, works at IBM. Defensive assistant Dr. Robert Mutterperl, who is from Chicago, runs a medical practice in Tucson.
“All of my assistants started at a lower level, on the freshman team or junior varsity, and worked their way up,” said Bene. “It’s a family. I trust all of them. We all work someplace else, and then drive to campus for practice every afternoon. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for us.”
Stay tuned. Even after a spotless start, the best at Salpointe may be yet to come.