By Jim Gruber, Special for AZCentral Sports November 11, 2016
Handing an undefeated team its first loss is tough enough, but beating them when their defense scores four touchdowns? That’s pretty much impossible.
That’s what Desert Ridge (Mesa, Ariz.) found out Thursday against No. 9 Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) in their 6A Conference playoff quarterfinal matchup. Mountain Pointe rang up three interception returns for touchdowns to go with a fumble return for a score in the midst of playing generally lock-down defense, all of which led to a 47-21 win in Phoenix.
“Since I’ve been coaching, I’ve never seen four turnovers for touchdowns,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “I had yet to see that happen.”
Mountain Pointe’s defensive effort was most pronounced in the first half, when Mountain Pointe built a 27-6 lead going into the locker room. Isaiah Pola-Mao led the way when he scored two second-quarter touchdowns on pick-six plays on consecutive Desert Ridge drives.
“I saw the opportunity to (get those interceptions) and I just took a hold of it,” Pola-Mao said.
Pola-Mao’s scores blew open what was a close game through the first quarter and a half. With Mountain Pointe holding a 14-3 lead, Pola-Mao gathered in a Desert Ridge pass that ricocheted off the intended receiver’s shoulder pad and returned the ball 20 yards for a touchdown.
Five plays later, as Desert Ridge tried to convert a fourth down near midfield, Pola-Mao stepped in front of a slant pass and went 56 yards the other way for another score and a 27-3 Mountain Pointe edge.
Desert Ridge would get no closer than 19 points the rest of the way.
“We had something to prove coming out. Everybody’s been saying they could play with us, and we took that to heart,” Pola-Mao said. “We came out and proved a point.”
Pola-Mao’s two scores were bookended by two other Mountain Pointe defensive touchdowns. Khalif Ravenell set the tone for Mountain Pointe’s defensive effort in the first quarter when he stripped the ball from a Desert Ridge running back and returned the fumble 19 yards the other way for the game’s opening points. Antwaun Woodberry capped the scoring in the fourth quarter when he snared an interception near the Desert Ridge sideline and raced back the other way for a touchdown.
Desert Ridge (8-4) battled throughout, and managed to cut the Mountain Pointe lead to 40-21 late in the game after freshman quarterback Matthew Purnell hit Michael Winner in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Desert Ridge then recovered an onside kick, but Mountain Pointe’s defense again clamped down and forced a Purnell incompletion on fourth down to end the threat.
Mountain Pointe, which improved to 12-0, advances to the 6A semifinals against No. 13-seeded Mesa Red Mountain at Tempe McClintock.
“We did our job here. Now, it’s on to the next week,” Pola-Mao said.