High school football
Salpointe hopes to get back on track after stumbling in 2015
Someday down the road, when Dennis Bene decides to hang up his whistle for good, the longtime Salpointe Catholic football coach will have plenty to look back at and smile.
The 2015 season won’t be one of those things.
Salpointe is coming off a disappointing 5-5 campaign, which concluded with an overtime loss at home on the final night of the regular season. Had the Lancers won, they would have qualified for the state playoffs for the sixth straight year and 13th time under Bene. Instead, it marked the first time since 1998 that Salpointe didn’t post a winning record.
“We just had a lot of things working against us,” said Bene, who took over the program in 2001. “At the end of the day, we didn’t do a good enough job as a team to overcome those so it is what it is.”
Those struggles are a thing of the past.
The Lancers already have a win under their belt this season and host Mountain View on Friday, in their first home game since blowing a 31-17 lead against Cienega on Oct. 30 of last season.
A victory against the Mountain Lions would be significant, sending Salpointe into its bye week at 2-0 with a showdown against Tucson High on the horizon. A win could also avenge a loss to Mountain View in 2014, which snapped the Lancers’ 19-game winning streak dating back to the 2013 season, when Salpointe went 14-0 and won the Division II state championship.
Since that loss to Mountain View, things just haven’t been the same for Bene and the Lancers. But in no way is revenge or redemption a topic heading into their home opener.
“This game is no more important than last week’s game or next week’s game,” Bene said. “We’ve had great, great success but you can’t live in the past. We’ve had a few hiccups and we don't dwell on those either. We’re staying in the present, we’re focused on today and that’s what I like about this group.”
Salpointe improved to 9-8 over its last 17 games with a 20-12 win at rival Phoenix St. Mary’s last week to retain the Ed Doherty Trophy. Senior quarterback Sean Barton completed 7 of 10 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in addition to rushing for 33 yards and two scores. Sophomore running back Mario Padilla had a breakout game, rushing 23 times for 134 yards on top of hauling in an 18-yard touchdown catch.
“It’s a pretty even-keel team,” Bene said “These guys have a very business-like approach and their minds are in the right place.”
There were still some positives for Bene to take away from the 2015 season, even though the finish may have been tough to digest. His group put together a three-game winning streak after falling into a 2-4 hole, to have a shot at qualifying for the state playoffs heading into the final game.
Bene, who isn’t planning on retiring anytime soon, said he spent the offseason improving areas he was concerned about. One matter he emphasized was respecting the process rather than focusing on the outcome.
Even though last season may have been one of his low points, Bene hopes the lessons it taught can pay dividends down the road.
“I don’t feel like I have to walk out and prove anything,” Bene said. “I’ll put what we’ve done the last 16 years up against anybody in this town. We stumbled last year, it happens. Really good programs have some tough years.”