TUCSON – Scottsdale Chaparral had top-ranked Tucson Salpointe Catholic staggered to start. A rare three-and-out, a shanked punt and a touchdown had Salpointe in a hole for the first time this season.
Then, Andrew Cota calmly found his playmakers, Kaelin Deboskie and Cameron Denson, the defense dialed up the intensity, and it was over.
Salpointe (14-0) celebrated the school’s first state championship in its usual dominant fashion with a 46-20 victory in the Division II football final before a home crowd of at least 10,000 at Arizona Stadium on Friday night.
Salpointe scored at least 40 points in all 14 games it played, but this was the most points it allowed. It was only the second time it allowed more than nine points in a game.
A goal-line stand, followed by a Cota-to-Denson 98-yard scoring strike was a 14-point swing that gave Salpointe a chance to breathe comfortably at halftime.
“It goes from 19-13 going into the half to 26-6, and that hurt,” Chaparral coach Dave Huffine said.
Denson continued to hurt Chaparral’s chances in the third quarter when he scored two touchdowns in a matter of a minute.
After Chaparral (12-2) became only the second team this season to score in double figures against Salpointe, cutting the deficit to 26-13, Denson returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a score and made a one-handed, 34-yard catch over a defender for another.
Suddenly, it was 39-13.
“I was just excited to make big plays for my team,” said Denson, who had 300 total yards and a chance for two more TDs that slipped through his fingers. “Everybody made big plays.”
Denson also picked up a bounced lateral pass from Kaelin Deboskie after an interception and ran 70 yards with an assortment of moves to the Chaparral 10.
“That was amazing,” Cota said. “They always do that stuff in practice. They play around and stuff. But it worked.”
Salpointe, which lost its two other state championship appearances in 1981 and ’91, came into the game outscoring its opponents 651-81, including 244-3 in the first quarter of games.
Second-ranked Chaparral jumped on a 6-yard Salpointe punt in its opening possession with Tyler Whiley capping a 22-yard drive on a 2-yard run.
Cota, sacked four times in the half, converted four third-down passes and Salpointe tied it at 6 on a 7-yard pass to Deboskie.
A bad snap that punter Jay Williams decided to take out of the end zone to his 1 had Chaparral set up for a score, trailing 19-6, late in the second quarter.
Whiley then lined up as quarterback in shotgun with an empty backfield. He was stuffed at the 1, sending the Salpointe sideline into a frenzy.
On the third play afterward, Cota found Cameron Denson on a quick slant for a 98-yard pass play that put Salpointe ahead 26-6 with 3:27 left in the first half.
Cota completed all eight of his passes for 154 yards in the half.
Chaparral had just 20 yards on 19 plays in the half.
“I have a veteran staff, and nobody panicked,” Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said.