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Ground attack helps Salpointe down Marcos de Niza in 4A quarterfinals

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High school football

Ground attack helps Salpointe down Marcos de Niza in 4A quarterfinals

Sophomore RB Mario Padilla led way with 212 yards, 2 TDs

  • Salpointe Catholic's football team rolled to a 48-6 win on Thursday night to move onto the state semifinals for the third time in the last five seasons. Now the No. 4 Lancers take on top-seeded Scottsdale Saguaro next week for a spot in the 4A state championship game.
    Daniel Gaona/TucsonSentinel.comSalpointe Catholic's football team rolled to a 48-6 win on Thursday night to move onto the state semifinals for the third time in the last five seasons. Now the No. 4 Lancers take on top-seeded Scottsdale Saguaro next week for a spot in the 4A state championship game.

Like millions of Americans, Salpointe Catholic football coach Dennis Bene sat back and watched one of the biggest upsets of all time unfold in Tuesday’s presidential election.

Now he’s going to try and pull off a similar stunner next week.

Sophomore running back Mario Padilla rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns as the fourth-seeded Lancers rolled past No. 5 Tempe Marcos de Niza for 48-6 win in the 4A state quarterfinal on Thursday night.

Salpointe, the winner of six straight games, moves on to play top-seeded and nationally ranked Scottsdale Saguaro next week at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, vying for a spot in the state championship game. Even though the Sabercats came into the season as a three-time defending state champions and the heavy favorite to win again, Bene has to like the way his young squad is coming together at this point.

“It’s momentum against the machine,” Bene said. “Saguaro is a machine – they are a machine – but we have a little momentum right now.

“They’re a machine, but I know this: We have great pride, our kids have a lot of confidence and we’re going to give it our very, very best shot."

The Lancers (10-2) are in the state semifinals for the third time over the last five seasons and, once again, defense has been one of the main factors in getting the team there. On top of that, Salpointe’s ground game has been nearly unstoppable lately, with Padilla leading the way.

“Everybody doubted us so I think us coming together has to really be a factor in this next game and playing to a better level,” said Padilla, who broke off a 24-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage and rushed for a 10-yard touchdown just three plays later.

Salpointe isn’t the only local program one win from a playing for a state crown at University of Phoenix Stadium on Nov. 26. Sixth-seeded Catalina Foothills rallied late for a 52-49 win at No. 3 Peoria Sunrise Mountain to reach the other 4A semifinal while top-seeded Cienega remained unbeaten and will face No. 5 Peoria Centennial next Friday at Tucson High for a trip to the 5A state championship game. Meanwhile, Sabino and Benson play Saturday night in the 3A and 2A quarterfinals, respectively.

Fittingly, Salpointe honored two of its newest state champions at halftime on Thursday night: The girls cross country team won its first title since 2006 on Saturday while the girls volleyball program captured its first crown on Wednesday night. Now Bene’s football program is two wins away from adding another trophy to the collection.

Salpointe jumped out to a 10-0 lead early against Marcos de Niza less than 6 minutes into the game. The Padres put together a 17-play scoring drive to get on the board early in the second quarter but the Lancers responded with three touchdowns to break the game open by halftime.

First, senior quarterback Sean Barton – who attempted just three passes – ran for a 9-yard touchdown run and then he connected with freshman Bijan Robinson for an electrifying 44-yard touchdown, to put Salpointe ahead 24-6 with 4:29 left in the second quarter.

“That’s all we were practicing all week long – just running, running, running,” said Barton, who made his first start since returning from a shoulder injury. “We barely threw at practice so I expected to be running a lot. And for me to score a touchdown in my last game here is pretty special, I was really happy with that and coming out with the win.”

After Salpointe’s defense came up with another stop, Padilla anchored a quick scoring drive that began on his own 11. A 57-yard burst set up a 2-yard touchdown plunge as the second quarter ran out, leaving the Lancers in complete control with a 31-6 lead.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see your running backs just keep pounding and you keep winning the line of scrimmage,” said Bene, who has produced some of Tucson’s top passers in his 16 years at Salpointe. “We’ve found our identity now, we’ve found what we’re good at."

It was more of the same in the second half, but this time it was Robinson doing the damage. The freshman, who finished with 50 yards rushing and 44 receiving, capped off a 63-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to the left side, pushing Salpointe’s lead to 38-6.

“When I first started, I didn’t know we were going to get this far because people doubted us,” Robinson said. “But we came together and we just kept working. Now we’ve got Scottsdale Saguaro.

“We’ve got to play a perfect game, we can’t screw up. We’ve got to play like we did today, plus 10, and after that, we’ll have a chance.”

Senior kicker Cameron Scharf knocked in his second field goal of the game early in the forth quarter to make it 41-6 and junior Rodrigo Nieto returned an interception for a 47-yard touchdown on Marcos de Niza’s next possession to close out the win. Just six weeks earlier, Salpointe walked off the same field after a 51-14 loss to Cienega, which is undefeated one win from playing in the 5A state championship game. But the steady defensive improvements and the newly-founded rushing game have the Lancers cruising.

“What I’m excited about is we’re back to a Salpointe attitude," Bene said. "The culture around here is back to the way it should be. We have great kids, who are wonderful teammates and that's really what it's about. That's truly why I think we're successful."

Salpointe Catholic 48, Tempe Marcos de Niza 6

  • Marcos de Niza 0 6 0 0 – 6
  • Salpointe 10 21 7 10 – 48

Scoring Summary

First quarter
  • SAL – Padilla 10 run (Scharf kick)
  • SAL – Scharf 42 field goal
Second quarter
  • MDN – Moss 5 run (run failed)
  • SAL – Barton 9 run (Scharf kick)
  • SAL – Robinson 44 pass from Barton (Scharf kick)
  • SAL – Padilla 2 run (Scharf kick)
Third quarter
  • SAL – Robinson 5 run (Scharf kick)
Fourth quarter
  • SAL – Scharf 27 field goal
  • SAL – Nieto 47 interception return (Scharf kick)

Thursday’s local results

5A state playoffs – Quarterfinals

  • No. 1 Cienega 63, No. 9 Gilbert Mesquite 38
  • No. 6 Queen Creek 42, No. 3 Ironwood Ridge 26
  • No. 2 Gilbert Williams Field 41, No. 7 Marana 14

4A state playoffs – Quarterfinals

  • No. 4 Salpointe Catholic 48, No. 5 Tempe Marcos de Niza 6
  • No. 6 Catalina Foothills 52, No. 3 Peoria Sunrise Mountain 49

Saturday’s local games

3A state playoffs – Quarterfinals

  • No. 13 Winslow at No. 5 Sabino, 6 p.m.

2A state playoffs – Quarterfinals

  • No. 5 Benson at No. 4 Pima, 6 p.m.

Next week’s local schedule

5A state playoffs – Semifinals, Friday, 7 p.m.

  • No. 5 Peoria Centennial vs. No. 1 Cienega at Tucson HS

4A state playoffs – Semifinals, Friday, 7 p.m.

  • No. 4 Salpointe Catholic vs. No. 1 Scottsdale Saguaro at Scottsdale Desert Mountain HS
  • No. 6 Catalina Foothills vs. No. 2 Gilbert Higley at Gilbert Williams Field HS

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