TUCSON — Chaparral did two things early in Friday's Division II state final that no other opponent had been able to do against Salpointe Catholic this season: score a first-quarter touchdown and take the lead.
Then the Firebirds did something that 13 other schools from three different states had done when facing the Lancers: lose handily.
No. 3 Chaparral ran into a buzzsaw at the University of Arizona Stadium, losing 46-20 to top-seeded Salpointe in the Division II state championship game on Friday night. It marked the first time the Firebirds (12-2) fell in a state final since 2008, which was followed by three consecutive championships.
“You've got to play a really good game to have a chance against them,” Chaparral coach David Huffine said of Salpointe, which won its first-ever state title. “We had too many turnovers. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot, and that's what we did in the first half.”
Salpointe (14-0), appearing in a championship game for the first time since 1991, rebounded from an early 6-0 deficit by running off 26 straight points to lead by 20 at halftime. And the Lancers did it on the backs of a handful of explosive seniors, most notably Cameron Denson.
Denson, who will play on the same field for Arizona next season, scored three long touchdowns, including a 98-yard catch on 3rd-and-9 and an 84-yard kickoff return after Chaparral had pulled within 26-13 midway through the third quarter.
The senior also scored on a 34-yard TD pass, which he pulled in with one hand because the other was being held back by a Firebirds' defensive back.
Denson and Kaelin Deboskie — who caught two first-quarter TD passes from Andrew Cota — also combined on a highlight reel-worthy interception return in the third quarter in which Deboskie intercepted Chaparral's Sean Paul Brophy, then lateraled across the field to Denson. Denson then jigged and jived through the Firebirds' players, juking out Brophy along the way, to return it to Chaparral's 10-yard line.
“They're just difference makers,” Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said of Denson and Deboskie.
Chaparral looked tough early, forcing a rare three-and-out from Salpointe on its opening drive. The Firebirds then capitalized on a shanked punt to get the ball at the Lancer 22 and score a few minutes later on a 2-yard run by Tyler Whiley.
But then it was pretty much all Salpointe, with the Lancers going 14 plays and 72 yards to tie it at 6-6, then converting a muffed punt and a fumble return into quick, one-play touchdown drives to lead 19-6 early in the second quarter and never look back.
Chaparral had chances to keep things close, but Salpointe's defense locked down when it needed to most. This was most evident when, after the Lancers muffed a punt and turned the ball over to the Firebirds at their own 1-yard-line with 5:29 left in the first half, Chaparral was stuffed on four straight plays without a point.
Three snaps later, Cota hit Denson on a slant at about the 15 and Denson turned on the nitrous to blaze away with a 98-yard score.
The 20 points Chaparral scored were the most allowed this season by Salpointe, which outscored its opponents 697-101 for the year.
Salpointe Catholic 46, Chaparral 20
Rushing: Chap 30-(-14), SC 26-19
Passing (comp.-att-yards-TD-INT): Chap 23-36-243-1-2, SC 12-15-266-4-0
Fumbles-lost: Chap 1-1, SC 1-1
Chaparral 6 0 7 7 -- 20
Salpointe 6 20 20 0 -- 46
CHAP — Tyler Whiley 2 run (kick failed)
SAL — Kaelin Deboskie 7 pass from Andrew Cota (kick blocked)
SAL — Deboskie 16 pass from Cota (run failed)
SAL — Jay Williams 4 run (Alex Flores kick)
SAL — Cameron Denson 98 pass form Cota (Flores kick)
CHAP — Elijiah Castro 2 run (Bruce Packal kick)
SAL — Denson 84 kickoff return (kick failed)
SAL — Denson 34 pass from Cota (Flores kick)
SAL — Jacob Ksiazek 7 punt return (Flores kick)
CHAP — Israel Simpson 22 pass from Sean Paul Brophy (Packal kick)