From the kickoff that opened their season in Las Vegas way back in August, the Lancers from Tucson Salpointe Catholic High have seemed to play with a sense of destiny.
It has carried them to 13 victories in 13 games, and it will need to hold one more time as the top-seeded team squares off against No. 3 Scottsdale Chaparral (12-1) for the Division II state championship on Friday (Nov. 29) at the University of Arizona Stadium in Tucson. Kickoff is 6 p.m.
Salpointe coach Dennis Bene bleeds maroon and gold through and through. He played quarterback for the Lancers back in the day and has made his players aware of the program’s strong competitive nature and the desire to win its first state title. The program finished as the runner-up in 1991 and 1981.
“You’ve got to believe down deep in your heart that you can win,’’ Bene told the Arizona Daily Star.
One of the biggest believers is senior wide receiver/defensive back Cameron Denson.
“We want to be known as one of the best teams,’’ Denson told the Star.
“We have the motor to keep going. That’s the difference between this year’s team and last year’s team.’’
It starts for Salpointe with senior quarterback Andrew Cota, who is one of the most versatile at his position in the state.
He has rushed for 625 yards and 15 touchdowns and passed for 2,482 yards and 31 TDs.
Denson is one of Cota’s favorite targets. He has caught 69 passes for 1,305 yards and 17 TDs, and rushed for 394 yards and six scores. He also has seven interceptions on defense.
Another key receiver is senior Kaelin Deboskie, who will join Denson at the University of Arizona next season.
Deboskie has caught 48 passes for 852 yards and 13 TDs.
Senior Jay Williams adds to the running game with 829 yards and 17 TDs.
Jake Casteel is the top tackler with 148, including 10 sacks.
Chaparral, which won its last title in 2011 under Charlie Ragle (now a UofA assistant) and has won six overall, is now led by Dave Huffine. He has admired Salpointe from afar this season.
“They are unbelievable,’’ Huffine said. “They have a tremendous team. They have talent everywhere. It will be a big day for them, a “home’ game in the UofA stadium.
“Our kids are ready. Playing for a championship is all they have wanted to do, what they have worked for.’’
Chaparral has a balanced approach on offense. UCLA commit Elijah Castro has rushed for 1,327 yards and 16 touchdowns, and has caught 28 passes for 412 yards and three TDs.
Tyler Whiley has been a productive all-around player for the Firebirds.
He has rushed for 678 yards and 11 TDs, caught 37 passes for 559 yards and seven TDs and has six interceptions on defense.
Wide receiver Izzy Simpson has 73 catches for 976 yards and 12 TDs and tight end Trevor Wood, another UofA commit, has 65 catches for 862 yards and eight TDs.
Junior Sean Paul Brophy is back at quarterback after missing about five games with back issues.
He passed for 1,930 yards and 17 TDs in eight games.
On defense, linebacker Hayden Pate is the top tackler and has 10 sacks. Back Michael Rice has seven interceptions.
This will be a special game for the 6-6, 238-pound Wood.
“It will be my final high school game on the same field where I will be playing in college,’’ he said.
It also is significant because Wood has been healthy most of the season. His junior season in 2012 was extremely limited due to a labrum injury in his shoulder.
“I definitely think it will be a good game,’’ Wood said. “The important thing for us is to not allow them to take us out of what we do. We don’t want to get out of our rhythm. We want to show people that this is our bounce-back year.’’
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Salpointe Lancers (13-0)
Coach: Dennis Bene
Def. Liberty (Nev.) 48-7
Def. Tucson Sabino 49-7
Def. Crespi (Calif.) 47-7
Def. Tucson Sunnyside 46-0
Def. Tempe Marcos de Niza 40-7
Def. Marana Mountain View 56-9
Def. Tucson Rincon 63-0
Def. Casa Grande Vista Grande 51-0
Def. Tucson Ironwood Ridge 48-9
Def. Tucson 49-7
Def. Yuma Cibola 54-7
Def. Peoria Liberty 45-14
Def. Glendale Deer Valley 55-7
Chaparral Firebirds (12-1)
Coach: Dave Huffine
Def. Scottsdale Saguaro 52-27
Lost to Tempe Marcos de Niza 56-45
Def. Glendale Mountain Ridge 42-6
Def. Scottsdale Desert Mountain 35-28
Def. Mesa Red Mountain 44-14
Def. Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep 42-0
Def. Phoenix Arcadia 49-0
Def. Phoenix Brophy Prep 44-10
Def. Cave Creek Cactus Shadows 54-6
Def. Phoenix Paradise Valley 58-7
Def. Tolleson 64-21
Def. Tempe Marcos de Niza 35-21
Def. Gilbert Mesquite 35-20