TUCSON – Friday night’s (Nov. 29) Division II football championship game couldn’t have gone much better for Cameron Denson and the Tucson Salpointe Catholic Lancers.
Playing in his future collegiate home at the University of Arizona Stadium, Denson scored three touchdowns, including a 98-yard pass reception and an 85-yard kickoff return, as the Lancers completed an unbeaten season with a 46-20 triumph over Scottsdale Chaparral.
Salpointe, the top seed, finished with a 14-0 record as the No. 1 seed. Third-seeded Chaparral finished 12-2. It was the first title in Salpointe’s long history. Chaparral was going for its seventh crown.
Chaparral also contributed to its own demise with a couple of botched punts and the inability to get the ball in the end zone four straight times from the Salpointe 1 in the first half.
Salpointe then stunned the Firebirds with a 98-yard scoring pass from Andrew Cota to Denson to make it 26-6 with 3:27 left in the first half. In addition to his long kickoff return, Denson scored on a 34-yard pass in the second half. He finished with four catches for 148 yards.
He also had about a 70-yard return on defense in the second half after teammate Kaelin Deboskie intercepted a pass and then lateraled to Denson. The ball bounced off the artificial turf into Denson’s hands and he took off.
“This is unbelievable,’’ said Salpointe coach Dennis Bene, a former quarterback for the Lancers in the early 1980s. “For every coach and player who has been associated with this program, they can now call themselves No. 1.’’
Said Denson: “The fact that we were able to do this in my future home stadium just makes it that much better.
“It is a tremendous way to go out. Everything I did, I did for my team.’’
Bene said Denson “is the best player in the state. He brought us a state championship and he will bring a Rose Bowl trophy to the University of Arizona. He’s that special of a player.’’
Deboskie, also headed to the UofA, put up some big numbers of his own with seven catches for 112 yards and two TDs.
Chaparral’s Elijah Castro scored on a 2-yard run early in the third quarter to cut Salpointe’s lead to 26-13, but Denson quickly took away that momentum and returned it to his own sideline with the 84-yard kickoff return.
Castro hobbled out of the stadium on crutches after the game with his left foot in an air cast.
The two coaching staffs got into a heated exchange while their players were shaking hands afterward. It was fortunate that the situation did not escalate.
Chaparral coach David Huffine was calm as he consoled one of his players, who was sobbing with disappointment.
Huffine carried the runner-up trophy off the field and gave credit to Bene and his staff.
“They have done a heck of a job over there, but I am very proud of our guys,’’ Huffine said.
The fact that his team could not punch the ball into the end zone in four tries from the 1 “was a telling blow. We have to take advantage of our opportunities and we can’t give them opportunities.’’