High school football
Padilla, Robinson lead way as Salpointe rolls past Catalina Foothills
Lancers locked up 4A Kino regional title with 34-7 win
Mario Padilla and the Salpointe Catholic football team ended up facing an unusual first-and-25 early in the fourth quarter Friday night, in their showdown against Catalina Foothills. So Padilla, making it look effortless, broke off a 32-yard run and, two plays later, teammate Bijan Robinson punched it in for a touchdown.
It was just that kind of night for the Lancers.
The sophomore Padilla rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns as Robinson added 140 yards on the ground and a score of his own to help Salpointe roll past rival Catalina Foothills for a 34-7 win on homecoming night, locking up the 4A Kino regional championship. The duo singlehandedly out-gained the visiting Falcons, who were held to just 252 yards of offense.
“It really means a lot to us because we came in as underdogs and I knew my team could pull it out,” said Padilla, who also caught a 39-yard touchdown pass. “We’ve just got to keep getting better and better and keep progressing every week.”
Salpointe (7-2) entered the night having lost its last two home games, against Tucson High on Sept. 9 and then Cienega two weeks later. But the sixth-ranked Lancers smothered the No. 4 Falcons from the start to win their third straight game overall and get back on track at Ed Doherty Stadium.
“I need to give a lot of credit to my coaching staff for working extremely hard over the last three weeks and to the kids who were really resilient,” Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said. “We just owed it to the Salpointe fans, we’ve got to play well at home. This was the effort we needed and I just couldn’t be happier for our kids.”
The outcome certainly shook up the 4A state playoff picture heading into the final week of the season. It gives Salpointe a chance to earn a top-four seed, meaning it could host first- and second-round games. Meanwhile, Foothills’ chances of staying at home for the postseason took a hit, but there’s no doubt Rhett Rodriguez and the Falcons will play into November for the fourth year in a row.
Of course, that all depends on what happens next week, when Salpointe hosts Canyon del Oro and Foothills (7-2) takes on Walden Grove.
“We just made a lot of mistakes,” Rodriguez said after the loss. “A lot of this was on us but to win a state championship is the goal. We win next week and we’re in the playoffs. We can still make something happen out of this year.”
Salpointe’s win Friday night snapped a six-game winning streak by Foothills and kept the Lancers unbeaten against the Falcons in five tries. But Bene called this Foothills team “the best he’s ever coached against,” as he lined up against fellow Pima County Sports Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Scurran for the first time.
“I was a little bit nervous, to be honest with you,” Bene said. “But I’m just thrilled. Our school needed it and my players needed it. We really needed that win.”
They sure played that way.
Robinson, a freshman, broke off a 39-yard gain on Salpointe’s first play from scrimmage, which helped set up a 31-yard field goal by Cameron Scharf to give the Lancers an early 3-0 lead.
Padilla pushed Salpointe to a 10-0 lead with 1:50 left in the second quarter, when he capped off a quick 59-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, moment after he danced his way for an 18-yard gain.
After stalling on their first five possessions, the Falcons finally broke through just 50 seconds after Padilla’s score, when Rodriguez launched a deep ball to Jimmy Stewart for an 80-yard touchdown to get the Falcons right back into the game.
Well, at least that’s how it looked.
Instead, Salpointe pushed its lead back to 10 points when senior quarterback Kameron Carmickle found Padilla open on the left side for a 39-yard catch-and-run into the end zone.
“It was a really big momentum swing,” Padilla said. “They thought they had the momentum going into the half and we switched it up and got it. That was really big on our part so we came out in the second half and we knew we had to execute even more and more each time.”
The momentum carried into the second half, as Padilla finished off another six-play, 50-yard drive with his third rushing touchdown of the night, giving the Lancers a commanding 24-7 lead against a Foothills team that had yet to record a first down in the game.
Scharf hit a 42-yard field goal on Salpointe’s next possession, following another punt by the Falcons. Then, after a turnover on downs, Robinson rushed for a 15-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach with 7:14 remaining.
As if things weren’t already going bad enough, Salpointe junior Rodrigo Nieto intercepted Rodriguez at the goal line on Foothills’ next possession, eliminating any chance of a comeback.
“We just weren’t in our rhythm,” Rodriguez said. “We had a few dropped passes but I over-threw a lot of passes. I was throwing high, I overthrew a few times so we’ve just got to get our timing and accuracy down. On defense, we didn’t tackle well. But there’s nothing we can’t fix; we’re going to go back to the drawing board and go from there.”