Friday night’s state playoff game between Saguaro High School and Salpointe Catholic is supposed to be a 4A semifinal contest.
But it has taken on the appearance of a title game since Salpointe is the only team remaining that hasn’t been beaten by the top-ranked Sabercats. The Tucson school may well be the only opponent remaining that can keep Saguaro from a fourth straight state championship.
The Scottsdale power came into the season with a national ranking and has rolled through its schedule undefeated and averaging 44 points a game. If the Sabercats beat Salpointe, they will face either Tucson’s Catalina Foothills High School or Gilbert’s Higley High, coming from the other side of the bracket. They have beaten both of those teams earlier this season, shutting out Catalina, 35-0, and clobbering Higley, 49-15. Salpointe has also beaten Catalina in a 34-7 romp.
The Sabercats haven’t beaten Salpointe yet for one simple reason: the two teams didn’t meet on this year’s schedule.
Salpointe, the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, isn’t in the same stratosphere as the powerhouse from Scottsdale that has won eight football state titles over the last 10 years, but they are playing at a high level right now and coming off an impressive 48-6 quarterfinals victory over fifth-seeded Marcos de Niza High School.
The Lancers’ offense lit up the scoreboard, using an unstoppable ground game as they put Marcos in a deep hole early by scoring on their fist seven possessions of the game. They were up 31-6 by halftime.
Salpointe’s senior quarterback Sean Barton threw the ball just three times all night, collecting 48 yards. Instead, he turned the game over to his “mighty mite” (5’8″, 185 lbs.) running back, Mario Padilla, who carried the ball 22 times and ran for 212 of the team’s 300 rushing yards.
And their defense stepped up big, too, containing one of the state’s most prolific passers.
Senior quarterback Nazareth Greer has been averaging almost 300 passing yards per game for Marcos as he compiled 3,530 for his final campaign. But the Salpointe defense held him to 119 years on 25 attempts. He’s accounted for 24 touchdowns this season, but left that game without a TD.
It’s doubtful that Salpointe will run up numbers against Saguaro that resemble those they put up against Marcos, but the Lancers have been putting up nice stats all season long and are playing with confidence right now.
Through 12 games, the Lancers have averaged 33 yards a game and have generally won with a strong ground attack. They pick up 111 yards per game with their passing, but double that in a running game that averages 221 a game.
Padilla, who has piled up 1,387 yards so far this season, will carry the work load again against Saguaro, but he has some help in the backfield from senior Trevor Volpe and junior Arturo Alcaraz, both of whom are averaging nearly six yards a carry.
And the Salpointe defense holds its own, too, posting a couple of shutouts and holding opponents to more than two scores in all but three games. A very active defense has actually accounted for more tackles this season (64) than Saguaro (53.3).
This should be a good game Friday night between teams from opposite sides of the state.
If Salpointe brings its ‘A’ Game, the one it displayed against Marcos, it could be an interesting night.