Mountain Pointe running back Jakim McKinney breaks away from Hamilton’s defense for a long touchdown run in high school football Friday night in Ahwatukee. McKinney and Eli Sanders did most of the damage as the Pride rushed for 416 yards in a 55-20 rout. Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor
With a short week of preparation and the memory of a bitter loss to the nation’s No. 15 team lingering, Mountain Pointe shook it off, unleashed its speedy rushing game and ran past Hamilton, 55-20, in high school football Friday night in Ahwatukee.
Mountain Pointe rolled to 416 rushing yards and 643 yards total offense against a program not far removed from its days as Arizona’s big-school dynasty.
But the Huskies were overmatched from the outset, as Pride running backs Jakim McKinney, a senior, and Eli Sanders, a sophomore, blasted through Hamilton’s front seven into the second level and raced away.
Meanwhile, the Pride’s blitzing, aggressive defense smothered Hamilton’s rushing game and consistently was in the face of Hamilton passers, making sacks or forcing hurried throws. Pride linebacker Rashion Hodge was a menace to the Huskies.
Last Saturday, the Pride was on the doorstep of upsetting 15th-ranked South Jordan (Utah) Bingham in Henderson, Nev., but inside the Bingham 5-yard line in the closing 2 minutes, Mountain Pointe’s fourth-down pass was deflected at the goal line.
There was no apparent hangover. Mountain Pointe struck quickly, manhandling the Huskies up front to open holes for McKinney and Sanders.
That, in turn, set up quarterback Nick Wallerstedt in the play-action and short passing game. The Pride also continued to take shots down the field and had receivers open deep most of the evening, but Wallerstedt overthrew several long balls.
The score reached 41-3 and the Pride threatened to put the game into running time before Hamilton regrouped and scored two late touchdowns, one of the drives set up by a recovered onside kick.
Mountain Pointe (2-2) plays host to Queen Creek (4-1), up this year to 6A, next Friday, while Hamilton (2-3) plays host to Dobson (1-4).
Mountain Pointe junior middle linebacker Rashion Hodge says help from a knowledgeable source – his brother, Rashie, who was one of the best in the state at the position two years ago – is helping him grow into the leader of a stingy Pride defense. Zach Alvira/Tribune Staff
Mountain Pointe’s Rashion Hodge knew at a young age that he was destined to be a linebacker.
He heard stories about his father playing it at South Mountain High and he saw his older brother, Rashie, transform into one of the best linebackers in the state as a senior for the Pride in 2016.
Rashie went on to play for South Dakota State but has since transferred to Glendale Community College as a running back.
With his brother back in the Valley, Rashion uses Rashie as a resource for advice, and it seems to be working.
“I picked a lot up from my brother,” Rashion said. “He taught me how to work hard. He had to work his way up to where he was. He worked hard and made a name for himself on varsity.”
Now a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, it’s Rashion who is starting to make a name for himself.
Through the Pride’s first three games, Hodge leads the Pride with 23 tackles, including one for a loss and a safety against Mountain View.
Last Saturday, Hodge and the Pride took on national power South Jordan (Utah) Bingham High, ranked 15th, in the Polynesian Classic in Henderson, Nevada. Despite the 21-14 loss, Hodge registered 11 tackles.
It’s not easy for a junior to take control of an experienced defense.
“He is becoming a leader in the right way and that’s what we look forward to,” Mountain Pointe linebackers coach Brandon Whitener said. “He is already barking at guys if they line up in the wrong spot. That’s a good thing because he knows what is going on around him and will help him play even faster.”
Hodge has speed and range. His ability to run from sideline to sideline and maintain his balance while making a hit are traits that have jumped out to Whitener and the rest of the coaching staff in their first season at Mountain Pointe.
Beyond that, it’s Hodge’s length. His long arms give him the ability to shed an opposing blocker and make a play.
“You look at him and without bending over he can almost scratch his knee caps,” Whitener said, laughing. “That’s a long kid, and being able to run and still move and work in space is impressive.”
It’s been a seamless transition for Hodge under new head coach Rich Wellbrock and his staff.
Along with Whitener, Hodge has learned the Pride’s new defense from coordinator Conrad Hamilton, who spent six years in the NFL as a defensive back.
From the style of coaching to the overall scheme, Hodge said he feels like there is a new vibe about the Mountain Pointe program, one that will lead to success.
“We have a different level of coaching now,” Hodge said. “There is more of a college feel here now. Coach Hamilton knows how colleges and pros work and we know that we need to listen to him because he has the experience.
“I’ve learned a lot from him and Coach Whitener, like breaking down in pass coverage and foot work.”
Only three games into his first varsity season, Hodge has yet to receive a Division 1 college offer but that doesn’t mean there aren’t schools interested. They’re waiting to see how Hodge pans out. Hodge said the Oregon State coaching staff, where former Pride players Timmy Hernandez and Wesley Payne play, has expressed interest.
Whitener, however, hopes Hodge remains under the radar for the duration of the season. He believes that would allow Hodge to further improve.
“As a first-year starter, it can put a lot of pressure on a kid to perform, especially coming after his brother, who had a lot of success at Mountain Pointe,” Whitener said. “Right now, I just want him to be his own guy and understand what he needs to do with this defense. I want him to carve out his own path as far as what his future is going to entail.”
Exactly what his path is remains to be seen, but with coaches in place who want him to succeed, as well as an older brother sharing advice from his time playing the same position, Hodge is on the path to becoming one of the best linebackers in the class of 2020 in Arizona.
Before that, he has another goal in mind.
“I’m just trying to execute and work hard,” Hodge said. “I want to be the hardest-working man on the field and get my team to the championship.”
This motley crew is a goofy bunch – just don’t get in its way. The Mountain Pointe offensive shoves foes around to opens holes for a relentless ground game. It also enjoys mirth with line coach Frantz Pierre-Louis – known among the players as “Coach Zoe.” Zach Alvira/AFN Staff
Football games often are won in the trenches. An offensive line that is big and physical to open holes for runners and protect the quarterback is every coach’s dream.
Coach Rich Wellbrock and Mountain Pointe High believe that they have that this season.
Why wouldn’t they? Mountain Pointe seems to have that every season. Physical play by dominating lines has been their trademark as they marched to the state semifinals or beyond eight of the past nine seasons.
“They’re the cornerstone of this team,” Wellbrock said of his linemen. “You can always count on them to do the right thing on the field, at the school and in the community. It’s a great group to have around.”
In their first season directing the Pride, Wellbrock and his staff inherited starters all over the field, including the offensive line. Seniors Cole Cundary, Alex Vogel, Zach Quihuis and Eriq Williams lead the way up front. The unit also has talented juniors Will Haire, Steven Williams and Kaleb Whitethorne.
The group averages 6-feet, 275 pounds – near the average for prep football teams in Arizona. They believe it’s their work ethic that separates them.
Mountain Pointe’s line will be tested Saturday when it takes on South Jordan (Utah) Bingham High, ranked 15th nationally in MaxPreps Xcellent 25, in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada, as part of the Touchdowns Against Cancer Games. Kickoff is 8 p.m. at Liberty High.
“It’s a position that doesn’t get talked about much, but it’s a group that comes out and does their job,” Wellbrock said of the line. “It’s hard to pinpoint anytime one of them does better than the other.”
Their daily work ethic is inspired by a position coach who has experience. Line coach Frantz Pierre-Louis – known among the players as “Coach Zoe” – is in his sixth year working at the varsity level. He was offensive coordinator and line coach at Phoenix Christian before joining the Chaparral staff in 2017.
The linemen say that the transition to the new coaching staff has been easy because Zoe has a similar coaching style to that of former coach Norris Vaughan and his staff.
“At least from our standpoint, they coach pretty much the same,” Quihuis said. “They teach us all the same types of technique. Coach Zoe may yell a little more but that would be about it.”
A strong bond with Zoe has been built in short order. Playful banter is common in the group.
“These guys are clowns,” Zoe said, laughing. “They speak their mind, they’re free spirits. I think we are the best unit on the team.”
From their time on the practice field to dinner afterward, Zoe says this tight-knit offensive line is among the most important units on the team.
Vocal leaders among the group have emerged, among them Quihuis. His leadership has stood out to teammates and coaches.
“Every day he does his job. He’s ready to go and he pulls everyone along with him,” Wellbrock said. “He pushes everyone to meet his level of intensity.”
That intensity fuels the success of the Pride’s offensive line during Quihuis’ two years as a starter.
Last season, Mountain Pointe had 5,495 yards of offense, most of it on the ground from running back Jakim McKinney, who has built a close bond with the line.
“They mean a lot to me,” McKinney said. “I do love them. We’ve been through a lot, especially in games and even outside of games. We all hang out and sometimes go to dinner. It’s a good connection for us.”
Mountain Pointe opened with a loss to Pinnacle, among the favorites to win the 6A state championship. The Pride rolled up 437 total yards and 34 points, totals that should be enough to win on most Fridays. They lost to the Pioneers by 22.
Mountain Pointe High football coach Rich Wellbrock addresses his team after falling to No. 15 South Jordan (Utah) Bingham (Utah), 21-14, in the final minute on Saturday night in Henderson, Nev. The Pride had first and goal at the 5 in the final two minutes but were unable to score. Nathan Shoup/AFN Contributor
HENDERSON, Nev. – Mountain Pointe’s late comeback attempt fell three yards short Saturday night against the No. 15 team in the country, South Jordan (Utah) Bingham.
Facing a fourth and goal at the 3 inside of 2 minutes left in the game, Pride quarterback Nick Wallerstedt’s pass to the right flat was deflected and the Miners (4-0) kneeled out the clock to hand the Pride (1-2) a 21-14 defeat.
“They had our receiver uncovered all the way until right before the snap, then he runs out there and was in a great position to take the slant away,” Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock said. “It’s football. And things like that happen.”
Four plays prior, Wallerstedt found Ahmen Williams for a 31-yard gain to the 5 on a fourth-and-22 play. Three consecutive runs netted two yards leading to the failed fourth-down play.
“That was a really good high school game between two good teams, “Bingham coach John Lambourne said. “I suspect that (Mountain Pointe) is going to go on and do pretty good Anyone that is able to compete with us in that manner, is going to be pretty good.”
Mountain Pointe’s final drive started at its 20-yard line with 6:17 left after Bingham’s 26-yard field goal attempt that would have made it a two-score game bounced off the right upright, ending a seven-minute drive.
“Defensively, we just battled and battled,” Lambourne said. “Our guys up front are pretty tough dudes to start with. That wasn’t just a one-play stand. That was a four-play stand. And that’s pretty tough to do.”
The Pride pulled within 21-14 late in the third when the Miners muffed a punt and could not corral it at the 5. The Pride recovered and three plays later Finley Nitura went untouched across the plane.
Wallerstedt completed 15 of 29 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. His 26-yard scoring pass to a leaping Williams (three receptions, 56 yards) tied the game at 7 in the first quarter.
Pride running back Jakim McKinney, averaging 105 rushing yards a game, found the going difficult against a stout Bingham front. He was held to 58 yards on 27 carries. Wellbrock said Bingham’s 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive lineman Simote Pepa is among the best he’s coached against.
Mountain Pointe’s big-play receiver, Dominique Davis, who came in with 10 catches for a 33.4-yard average, was limited to six receptions for 60 yards.
Defensively, Mountain Pointe held up well against the national power. Nearly half of Bingham’s 295 yards of offense came on two plays. Evona Hall put Bingham in front 14-7 with a 92-yard touchdown run with 8:51 left in the first half.
That score held until the Miners dug into their bag of tricks midway through the third quarter. Wide receiver Jared Greenfield took a handoff and then found a wide-open Jake Cragun running down the right sideline for a 50-yard touchdown on the pass.
Hall rushed for 180 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. Nobody else in a Miner uniform accounted for more than 50 yards of offense. Bingham was limited to 55 yards passing.
“The biggest thing I take away from a game like this is I thought our defense really toed the line,” Wellbrock said. “Besides the long run and the halfback pass, other than that, I was really pleased with how they played.”
Mountain Pointe has a history of coming up big against national powers on visits to the Las Vegas area. Five years ago, it upset nationally ranked Bishop Gorman, joining the few teams ever to beat the Gaels on their home field. That started an undefeated season that ended with the state championship and No. 5 national ranking for the Pride.
This game begins a critical stretch for this Pride team. In the coming five weeks, Mountain Pointe, which plays the toughest schedule in Arizona this season, faces Hamilton (2-2) – which on Friday upset Las Vegas Arbor View Hills – with a short preparation week, and then Queen Creek (3-1), Highland (4-0), Desert Vista (3-0) in the Ahwatukee Bowl, Chaparral (3-0) and Desert Ridge (2-2) – which took unbeaten Liberty to the wire Friday.
The Pride’s losses are to Pinnacle (3-1), the nation’s 44th-ranked team with Oklahoma-bound quarterback Spencer Rattler, and now to No. 15 Bingham.
Bingham (Utah) 21, Mtn. 14
Mountain Pointe 7 0 7 0 – 14
Bingham 7 7 7 0 – 21
Bingham – Hall 2 run (Smith kick) 7:37
MP – Williams 26 pass from Wallerstedt (Abercrombie kick) 2:43
Bingham – Hall 92 run (Smith kick) 8:51
Bingham – Cragun 50 pass from Greenfield (Smith kick) 6:23
MP – Nitura 1 run (Abercrombie kick) 0:39
Bingham – Hall 17-180, Wimmer 9-31, Jones 6-9, Marx 2-10. Mountain Pointe – McKinney 27-58, Wallerstedt 9- -15, Washington 1- (-2), Nitura 1-1, Sansers 1-4.
Ben Abercrombie watched his older brother, John, set school records during his four years as Mountain Pointe High’s kicker. Now Ben, a senior, has broken them all in his fourth year as the Pride’s kicker. Eric Newman/AFN Staff
By Eric Newman, AFN Staff Writer | September 4, 2018
The legs of the Abercrombie family have been a staple on the Mountain Pointe High sideline for much of this decade.
Senior kicker Ben Abercrombie is among few players on the Pride – a team that’s a lock for the playoffs nearly every season – who has played on the varsity for all four years of high school, just like his older brother, John Abercrombie, did.
A soccer player who realized he could utilize his kicking leg on the football field, John began kicking extra points for the Pride in 2011, and converted 108 of them by the time he graduated in 2014.
In 2015, his little brother, Ben, took over.
Ben Abercrombie said there was initial pressure to live up to his brother’s legacy. People expected him to be just as good.
“Everybody always used to call me ‘Mini-Cooper’ because I was his little brother. It’s interesting, and it was definitely something to strive for,” Ben said.
By the end of his junior season, Ben had converted 124 extra points and 17 field goals, both breaking his older brother’s school records.
If it was not clear before, those statistics are the validation that Ben Abercrombie has created his own legacy.
“I think I’ve kind of made my own identity now, and I’ve made my own life out of it,” Abercrombie said.
MP coach Rich Wellbrock said Abercrombie is “by far” the best kicker he has coached in high school.
On kickoffs, Abercrombie consistently puts the ball in or near the end zone. On field goals from long-distance, Abercrombie is as reliable as anybody in the state. Wellbrock said the senior’s ability unlocks options that other teams might not have.
“As a coach, you can actually think of a bunch of different scenarios that you can’t use at other places. The depth he gets on his kickoffs and where they go is great. And then, when we cross the 40-yard-line, we’re in field-goal range, and that’s rare.”
Abercrombie’s power as a player lies not only in his right foot, but in his ability to make teammates smile and feel comfortable around him.
Not much of a talker by nature, Abercrombie chuckled at the notion of addressing the team in the locker room or giving a motivational speech at practice. He said he does try to set an example with his focus and preparation.
“I don’t address the team or anything usually, but I try to be there for guys and talk to them one-on-one about staying positive,” he said.
He goes through his own routine on the sideline while the rest of the team practices on the field. Pride players often look over to Abercrombie and yell encouragement as he kicks into the practice net.
“He’s a quiet leader, and the guys always know he’ll be ready when his number is called,” Wellbrock said. “Whether it’s in the locker room or on the field, the guys love being around him.”
Cameron Rasmussen, a junior who trains with Abercrombie and likely will succeed him as Mountain Pointe’s kicker in 2019, has seen first hand how calming of a presence Abercrombie is in big moments.
“He knows how to act in certain pressure situations that other people would crack under. He can handle the big moments,” Rasmussen said.
On a team that has playoff aspirations and hopes to score a ton of points again, Abercrombie likely will continue to pile onto his school record. He added four extra points in the season opener against Pinnacle on Aug. 24.
The brothers talk about kicking and handling senior year, and Ben said John still motivates him to work harder.
Mountain Pointe High receiver Dominique Davis rips off another big play in Friday’s football game at Pinnacle. Davis, with five catches for 211 yards and a touchdown, was among the few bright spots for the Pride in their 56-34 season-opening loss to the Pioneers. Cheryl Hasselhorst/AFN Contributor
Mountain Pointe High’s secondary was bitten but not by a Rattler on Friday night.
Pride coach Rich Wellbrock’s debut was spoiled by a Pinnacle High quarterback who was not expected to play at all, J.D. Johnson, who was superb replacing injured Spencer Rattler as the top-ranked Pioneers rolled, 56-34.
Rattler left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. By halftime, top-ranked Pinnacle’s starting running back, Matt Goodlow, also was injured and on the sideline.
It didn’t seem to matter. The third-ranked Pride (0-1) defense was just as flummoxed by the backups. Johnson led Pinnacle (2-0) with Oklahoma-bound Rattler, among the best high school football players in the country, watching from the sideline. Rattler came into the game 0-3 against Mountain Pointe.
Johnson took advantage of his opportunity, passing for 225 yards and two touchdowns, completing 13 of 17 passes.
“I was a little nervous,” Johnson said. “But, I was just ready to step up.”
Pinnacle jumped to a 14-0 lead before Mountain Pointe gained a first down. However, two big plays by Pride quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, a 61 yard completion to Dominique Davis to set up a 17 yard touchdown run by Jakim McKinney, and then a Wallerstedt 54-yard touchdown run, pulled Mountain Pointe even at 14.
Then Wallerstedt threw an interception on his second pass of the second half and that ended his night. He was replaced by Ahmen Williams.
“That first drive was so critical and getting that interception and getting short field and getting that score right on, I think that took a little wind out of their sail,” said Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke. “I think that really got us control of the second half right away.”
Wallerstedt completed five of 10 passes for 118 yards and had the interception. He also rushed for 108 yards. Williams threw a pick as he completed only three of nine passes, but they gained 118 yards.
Davis had five catches for 211 yards and a touchdown.
Rattler completed his first five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown before he was injured. He was confident that his teammate could carry the team to victory when it became evident that he was not going to make it back into the game.
“I compete with him every day and it makes us both better,” Rattler said. “I knew once he got up he would do his thing. I’m real happy for him.”
It was a tough introduction to Mountain Pointe football for Wellbrock, the 2015-16 coach of the year at Desert Edge, but coming off a two-win record in his only season at Basha.
Mountain Pointe hosts Mountain View (1-1) on Friday.
Mountain Pointe will rely on returning starting quarterback Nick Wallerstedt (left), a senior, and running back Jakim McKinney (right), who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Staff
Members of the Mountain Pointe High football team saw the carnage first hand last Friday.
Pinnacle High, behind senior quarterback Spencer Rattler, lit up 2017 6A state runner-up Perry, 59-33, to open the season. Many of the Pride players were there to watch.This Friday, it’s MP’s turn at Pinnacle against Rattler, regarded among the nation’s top prep quarterbacks, an Oklahoma commit — but who never has beaten Mountain Pointe. Kickoff is 7 p.m. in north Phoenix.
It’s a tough way for the Pride to break in a new coaching staff and new schemes on both sides of the ball. And it’s never easy to go on the road and play a team that has a game under its belt, let along one guided by the likes of Rattler.The Pride watched Rattler pass for 415 yards and four touchdowns. He added 46 yards and a touchdown on the ground, as well, demonstrating why a good team like Perry can score 33 and still lose by 26.“I would love to say we grabbed somebody off the street that can simulate him, but you really can’t. We just hope to slow him down. We aren’t crazy and hope we will stop him,” new Pride coach Rich Wellbrock said.“He can make so many different types of plays, and we want to keep our eyes on him, watching the little things he does to make his team better. And they’ve got some pretty nice pieces around him, too, so we have to look at those guys, as well.”Knowing his players likely were tired of hearing Rattler’s name time and again, Wellbrock referred to Rattler as “You Know Who” in practice. A year ago, the Pride defeated Pinnacle and You Know Who, 58-34. “You can’t not talk about him, because that’s how you plan for the game. But, it’s very minimal, and we just have to get ready the way we usually do for any game,” Pride senior lineman Alex Vogel said. “There’s always going to be good individual players on every team, and that’s just how we have to prepare to come out and play well.”
Mountain Pointe senior defensive lineman Kenny Lofton said playing against the top players and programs in the state is the reason he puts on the pads for the Pride.“It’s exciting for me, because this is what I play for, and the other guys, too, going up against the best competition. It’s how you get better and how you show what you can do,” Lofton said. The early week off did give Wellbrock and the Pride a fresh game film and an extra week to cement the team’s game plan against a quality opponent. The Pride had held the Zero Week date open for the Arizona Interscholastic Association to schedule a Sollenberger Classic contest. That fell through, so the Pride opens a week later.“You can look at it two ways: We’re looking at it as an advantage where we can see what Pinnacle’s going to do, and how they want to approach everything,” he said. “And, I’m sure Pinnacle’s looking at it from their standpoint that they’ve been able to get a live game and we haven’t.”And, as Mountain Pointe senior defensive back Jatu Gipson said, the group will go in without the week’s-worth of bumps and bruises Pinnacle will after a competitive game.“We get to be fresh and have some more time to game plan. We get to see if they put in anything new in the first game. We had some of the old stuff and we practiced off of that, but now we get to see what they do and maybe make some changes. We’re going to feel good and have energy,” he said.
Richard Obert, Arizona RepublicPublished 12:49 p.m. MT Aug. 21, 2018 | Updated 1:09 p.m. MT Aug. 21, 2018
There is a chance to see some future Saturday football players on Friday when No. 2 (6A) Phoenix Mountain Pointe opens its season at 1-0 and No. 1 (6A)-ranked Phoenix Pinnacle in the azcentral sports’ Game of the Week.
Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, CB, 6-2, 180, Sr.
Long, athletic, fast corner who has a 3-star composite rating by 247Sports, Pleasant-Johnson should have a busy night with Spencer Rattler throwing the ball. Pleasant-Johnson likely will find himself guarding Pinnacle’s best wide receiver. He has offers from Florida, Iowa State, Nebraska, Missouri, Oregon State, San Diego State, Utah, and Northern Arizona.
Anthony Dedrick, DL, 6-4, 230, Sr.
He is being recruited as a weak-side defensive end. Holds a 3-star rating by 247Sports. So far four offers: NAU, South Dakota State, San Diego State and New Mexico State. Putting pressure on Rattler will help him get seen by more colleges who are looking for somebody with a large frame and quickness and speed.
Jerrick Dickson, TE/DE, 6-4, 220, Sr.
His father Marcus Dickson was a big-play running back at Phoenix Maryvale in the late 1980s. Great athlete who could make an impact on offense to get on the radar with major-college coaches.
Worth watching: QB Nick Wallerstedt, a senior, has committed to Arizona State to play baseball. Coach Rich Wellbrock may unveil 6-4, 185-pound senior Ahmen Williams at QB. He is a dynamic athlete who could make a splash in front of college recruiters. .. RB Jakim McKinney isn’t very big at 5-8, 170, but he has the speed and gears that make him stand out on the field.
Seems like years ago that Rattler committed to Oklahoma. There has been no second-guessing that commitment since doing so last summer. Now after throwing for 415 yards and four TDs in last week’s opening win over Gilbert Perry, the five-star Rattler might be the most-watched high school quarterback in the nation.
If Rattler endorses you, you know college coaches are going to listen. During Pinnacle’s preseason scrimmage, Rattler called Goodlow the best running back in the state. He has a chance to be. He has the size and speed. He can run through defenders and around them. College coaches will take a close look at him in this game against what should be a fast, physical Mountain Pointe defense.
Worth watching: Senior Athlete Kaleb Covington, 5-10, 175, has speed and gears that appeal to college coaches. Coach Dana Zupke has moved him from RB to WR. He is excellent in the slot. If last week was an indication, he will be used a lot to make plays in space. He caught four passes for 147 yards and a TD. … Senior LB Amelec Juntunen, 6-0, 190, has been moved from running back. He made a big impact on defense in the first game with 14 tackles, 11 solo, and a sack.
This is our Week 2 Game of the Week. Mountain Pointe is launching the Rich Wellbrock coaching era. There is a lot to live up to after Norris Vaughan left the program in mint condition. Can Wellbrock with his defensive coordinator, Conrad Hamilton, keep the Pride among the state’s more physical, fast teams in the state? Will Pinnacle QB Spencer Rattler finally break through against an opponent he lost to each of his first three varsity seasons? Rattler and the Pioneers are riding confidence after hanging 59 points on then-No. 2-ranked Gilbert Perry in last week’s 26-point win. Mountain Pointe will have to watch out for a solid ground game, as well, with Matt Goodlow ready to break out. Who will Pinnacle see at QB? Nick Wallerstedt or Ahmen Williams?
No. 2 Hungry Wolves
Queen Creek (1-0) at Chandler (0-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
This is an important week for two-time defending 6A champion Chandler after rendered powerless on Friday by Corona (Calif.) Centennial in a 35-13 loss. QB Jacob Conover managed only 133 passing yards and RB DeCarlos Brooks had 83 yards rushing on 18 carries. In the end, Centennial will prove to be a top-10 team in the nation. So alarms shouldn’t go off around the Wolves, unless they fall to Queen Creek, which is ready for 6A football behind accurate, big-arm QB Devin Larsen. Chandler’s pass defense got beat up last week, allowing 403 yards between two quarterbacks splitting time.
The eight best highlights from Week 1 of high school football. azcsports
No. 3 Payback?
Henderson (Nev.) Liberty at Scottsdale Saguaro (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
This might be the most difficult game on Saguaro’s regular-season schedule. Last year, in the second week of the season, Saguaro went to Nevada and got dominated by Liberty 51-20 in what was a rare non-competitive game by Saguaro in the Jason Mohns coaching era. Liberty is large, fast, physical, so Mohns has his team in full pads early this week to get ready for a physical game. This Liberty team is good enough to schedule national No. 1-ranked Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy on Sept. 7.
Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin (1-0) at Snowflake (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
Both these teams could see each other again in the 3A playoffs. Benjamin Franklin has a deep run game. In a rout of Ganado, it threw only one time and got 164 yards from Chandler Miles and 165 from Chanin Loving on the ground. Each had three rushing TDs. Snowflake’s balanced offense is led by running back David Brimhall, who had 84 yards and two TDs rushing in last week’s 22-7 win against Safford.
Yuma Catholic (1-0) at Phoenix Northwest Christian (1-0), Saturday, 7 p.m.
It’s been a few years since top-ranked 3A Northwest Christian beat Yuma Catholic, maybe the best, geographically furthest football rivalry in the state. These programs are always on top. This time, Rhett Stallworth is back in the saddle, coaching Yuma Catholic, after taking the past two years off in his role as principal. Both teams won their openers in dominating fashion, neither team giving up a point. RB Aren Van Hofwegen and WR Thomas Poe are Northwest’s main offensive weapons.
Mesa Red Mountain (1-0) at Laveen Cesar Chavez (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
After traveling 2,500 miles for its opener in Alaska, Chavez, led by RB/LB Andrew Blitzke, plays its home opener against a team that is one of the most solid all-around teams in 6A. Red Mountain’s offense was solid behind new QB Darren Smith, who passed for 210 yards and two TDs with no interceptions in a 24-6 win over Mesa Desert Ridge. RB Ty McElroy had 106 yards and a TD on 16 carries. The defense is tough, led by LB Anthony Giraldi, who had 19 tackles last week.
This is as young a team Catalina Foothills coach Jeff Scurran has had since he turned an 0-10 team around five years ago while relying on a freshman QB, Rhett Rodriguez. But Scurran complimented his seniors for helping the young guys beat Sierra Vista Buena in last week’s opener. Cactus is playing its first game without coach Larry Fetkenhier since 1984. Joseph Ortiz makes his varsity coaching debut after serving as Gilbert Higley’s offensive coordinator. “It’s Cactus,” Scurran said. “They have the pride that Larry built. They have the talent, as usual, and the coach they hired has a great background.”
Westview’s 23-7 first-round win over No. 2-seed Desert Ridge was the most shocking result of the 6A playoffs last year. It won’t be so much a shock if Westview wins again after Desert Ridge struggled offensively when QB Cooper Schmidt got knocked out of last week’s Red Mountain game. The line is strong, and RB Lucas Wright had more than 100 rushing yards. But the offense becomes more predictable without Schmidt, unless coach Jeremy Hathcock can find a solution quickly. Schmidt wasn’t able to play in last year’s playoff loss to Westview, either. Desert Ridge’s secondary was hampered after the first play last week when safety John Butler suffered a pulled hamstring.
No. 10 Return game
Peoria Sunrise Mountain (1-0) at Gilbert Williams Field (0-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
Like Chandler, Williams Field opened in California, losing to a really good team. Concerning was the 329 rushing yards allowed by the Black Hawks. They’ll have to get that fixed for a dynamic Sunrise Mountain offense, led by QB Keegan Freid, who has playmakers to keep the staunchest defenses off balance.
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Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson raises his right arm, then his left.
On the right bicep, it says, “Jaqu31.” On the left, it reads, “Pleasant.”
His mother’s name, Jaquel Pleasant, run deep in his heart. The tattoos were put there after he moved from Washington two years ago and began his Phoenix Mountain Pointe football career as a long, athletic cornerback who remembers his mom pulling him out of trouble as a child and giving him paths to succeed.
She steered him into football, took him to his games and cheered from the sideline until she lost her battle to lung cancer when she was 31 and Lacarea was 11.
“Having to go through that was big,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “But I tell you what, not a lot of people can go through this. But I think I was chosen at that time, just like this.”
The time is now for Pleasant-Johnson to ball out on the field. He is a senior , one of the state’s top-recruited cornerbacks, an athletic freak at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, who wears jersey No. 31 to signify the age his mom died.
He’ll take her spirit with him Friday night at Phoenix Pinnacle, where he’ll be assigned to senior quarterback Spencer Rattler’s hottest receiver, perhaps Kaleb Covington, who averaged 38 yards on four catches against Perry.
Rattler is the big name in high school football in America. He came into the season ranked as the No. 1 prostyle quarterback in the nation in the 2019 class, a five-star, who this week was among the Chosen 25 by USA Today.
“Spencer is going to make plays, but we just have to know how to bounce back,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “He’s a great quarterback. But we also have a good defensive coordinator (Conrad Hamilton) and also a head coach (Rich Wellbrock).”
It will be a chance for Wellbrock and Hamilton to bounce back after being at different places last season.
Wellbrock won just two games in his only season leading Chandler Basha after taking Goodyear Desert Edge to two state finals, and winning a championship, during his West-side run.
Hamilton was defensive coordinator at Scottsdale Chaparral last year and appeared to be in the hunt to return as head coach, a position he once held there, before the Firebirds went out of state to hire Brent Barnes.
Mountain Pointe was left in great condition by Norris Vaughan, who resigned to return home to Georgia. The program under Vaughan’s watch has always been filled with tough, fast, physical athletes.
“The biggest thing is numbers and length,” Wellbrock said about comparing the athletes at Mountain Pointe to his time at Desert Edge. “This is the longest football team I’ve ever coached. Just from our DB and wide receiver and linebacker positions, our length is phenomenal. And we’ve got a lot of growth to make.
“What we see Friday night won’t be what we see when we move into October.”
Mountain Pointe has never lost to Rattler, who is in his fourth year as the varsity starting quarterback at Pinnacle.
Wellbrock embraces the pressure that comes with keeping up Vaughan did to make the Pride a powerhouse.
“We all know what we signed up for,” Wellbrock said. “When these kids come to Mountain Pointe, they know that type of pressure, that they’re going to be under the spotlight.”
Pleasant-Johnson is an engaging athlete, fun-loving, smiling, outgoing, driven — things his mom left him. His grandmother, he said, stepped up in his life after Jaquel died. His father, he said, lives in Seattle.
“Just the competitive drive, she left that with me,” he said. “Getting up at five in the morning to do a job. I play for her. She plays a significant part in my life.
“She was my confidence when I was a little kid. It could get ugly at times, but you have to stay strong.”
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