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Mountain Pointe quarterback Nick Wallerstedt attempts a rare pass Friday during the Pride’s 42-24 win at Chaparral. Wallerstedt did most of his damage with his feet, rushing for 105 yards, but his biggest play might have been his leaping one-handed grab of an errant punt snap that could have given the Firebirds great field position for a fourth-quarter comeback attempt.  

Pride unleash fierce running game in big win at Chaparral

Updated 

With its season hanging in the balance, Mountain Pointe turned to its running game and its defense to rally from a 10-0 deficit and wallop Chaparral, 42-24, in high school football Friday night in Scottsdale.

The Pride (4-4) couldn’t afford another setback and hope to sneak into the top eight and a first-round home game in the playoffs, yet they appeared listless and disinterested as they fell behind early.

Then, coach Rich Wellbrock, who had alternated running backs Jakim McKinney and Eli Sanders all season, sent them into the game together. Combined with the running of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, the trio kept the Firebirds’ defense guessing as they unleashed counter plays, sweeps and keepers.

McKinney rushed for 134 yards on 16 carries, Wallerstedt for 105 on 21 and Sanders was a carry away from the 100-yard club with 92 on 16 carries.

MP’s offensive line got a large push, and its receivers made key blocks to allow rushers to get outside the tackles and find space.

“Their defense blitzed a lot and we just had to take advantage of the gaps that they gave up. After the first couple of drives we got together and kind of figured it out,” senior lineman Alex Vogel said.

Among those relieved that they did was Sanders, a sophomore.

“We really needed this win,” Sanders said. “And a lot of our coaches came from Chaparral, so, it was kind of personal to us. We wanted to do it for them.”

Wallerstedt’s six-yard touchdown pass to senior Jathan Washington was his only completion of the second quarter and his last of the game. Wallerstedt would attempt only two more passes in the second half as the Pride kept the ball on the ground and kept the clock moving.

“It really helps us so we don’t get injured, and we all share the load,” Sanders said of the three-headed monster in the backfield. “I give a lot of the credit to the offensive line. They’re the best O-line in the state.”

While Wallerstedt was making plays with his feet rather than his arm, it was a play with his hand that might have saved both the game and the Pride’s season. In the fourth quarter with the Pride clinging to the lead, Wallerstedt, who doubles as the Pride’s punter, made a highlight-reel, leaping, one-handed catch of an errant snap deep in Chaparral territory and then got the punt away before the Chaparral punt rush could get to him. Had the ball gotten away from him, the game likely would have changed.

Once the Pride weathered Chaparral’s early barrage their defense dug in. The front seven kept pressure on Chaparral quarterback Jack Miller, often forcing him to hurry throws or throw on the run, and the secondary stuck to Firebirds’ receivers, knocking down balls downfield.

Miller, who has committed to play at Ohio State in 2020, had 235 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He had no choice but to throw because the Mountain Pointe defense all but shut down Chaparral’s rushing game.

Like Mountain Pointe, Chaparral was fighting for playoff seeding, and several times play became heated.

Near the end of the third quarter, McKinney burst through a gap on fourth-and-five for a first down and his helmet came off during the tackle. While at the bottom of the pile, Chaparral junior Ben Eddleblute kicked him in the head. McKinney did not suffer an injury, and even scored a touchdown to finish the drive, but Eddleblute was ejected.

Just minutes later, on the Pride’s next possession, Mountain Pointe had to do a punt over due to two sets of offsetting penalties. Both teams committed personal fouls during the kick and then both received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties afterward.

“It was a really chippy game,” Mountain Pointe junior Cameron Rasmussen said. “Even when we came out for warm-up kicks, there was already some talking going on.”

There were 22 accepted penalties – 11 by each team – and several more that were declined or offset.

In the fourth quarter, Chaparral continued trash-talking. Though Pride players certainly chirped on the sideline, Wellbrock got his team to focus on the game and not draw a foolish penalty that would give up field position.

“We were able to have conversations with all of our kids and tell them that obviously there’s a bigger picture than that personal battle they want to get into,” Wellbrock said.

Wellbrock said he was proud of the way his team finished. Mountain Pointe had lost three games in the closing two minutes by a single score. That is counterbalanced by quality wins over Highland and now Chaparral, both on the road, against a schedule that statistically is the toughest in 6A.

“We know we can’t end the season less than .500 now,” Vogel said. “We didn’t need to say it out loud, but everybody kind of got the vibe for tonight.”

Mountain Pointe visits Desert Ridge (3-5) in the far East Valley on Friday. Chaparral (5-3) visits Pinnacle (7-1).

Mountain Pointe 42, Chaparral 24

Mountain Pointe         0  14  7  21 – 42

Chaparral                     10  0  7   7 – 24

First

CHAP – Cervantes 32 pass from Miller (Christakos kick), 8:37.

CHAP – FG, Christakos 49, 4:32.

Second

MP – Wallerstedt 1 run (Abercrombie kick), 9:03.

MP – Washington 6 pass from Wallerstedt (Abercrombie kick), 0:41.

Third

CHAP – Norvell 10 pass from Miller (Christakos kick), 6:57.

MP – McKinney 3 run (Abercrombie kick), 3:17.

Fourth

MP – Wallerstedt 10 run (Abercrombie kick), 6:13.

MP – McKinney 4 run (Abercrombie kick), 5:14.

CHAP – Norvell 24 pass from Miller (Christakos kick), 3:52.

MP – Wallerstedt 3 run (Abercrombie kick), 0:59.

Individual statistics

Rushing

Mountain Pointe – McKinney 16-134, Wallerstedt 21-105, Sanders 16-92, Washington 1-4. Chaparral – Hubbard 18-37, Miller 1-9, Williams 1-0.

Passing

Mountain Pointe – Wallerstedt 4-12-1, 17 yards. Chaparral – Miller 16-39-1, 235.

Receiving

Mountain Pointe – Davis 2-9, Washington 1-6, Delco 1-1. Chaparral – Christakos 5-119, Norvell 4-57, Hubbard 4-18, Cervantes 1-32, Crawford 1-9.

Team Statistics

                                               MP                 Chaparral

First downs                             21                  15

Rush-yards                              53-335           20-46

Comp-app-int                          4-12-1            16-39-1

Pass yards                               17                   235

Total yards                              352                  281

Fumbles/lost                            0/0                  3/1

Penalties-yards                        11-87               11-93

Mountain Pointe receiver Dominique Davis has studied, and in some cases idolized, greats who play his position since he was 7. It has paid off. The rangy and speedy junior is emerging as the Pride’s big-play threat with a 26.7-yard average and five touchdowns in four games.   

Mountain Pointe’s Double-D spells doom for Ds

Running pass routes at a park near his house since he was 7, Dominique Davis has been preparing himself.

To this day, the Mountain Pointe High junior receiver imagines himself as some of his favorite football players, particularly Houston Texans star DeAndre Hopkins.

Davis tries to emulate their production, but he knows his best chance to join their ranks is to run his own route.

He’s doing it. Davis, a 6-foot-2 junior, has burst upon the scene as the Pride’s big-play receiver, with 20 catches for 533 yards, five touchdowns and a whopping 26.7-yard average in the opening four games.

“From high school all the way to the pros, I love watching film of receivers,” Davis said. “I mimic them, really. If there’s moves I see, I’ll try to use them, but I really do want to be my own player.”

His production is even more eye popping given that he’s done it in an offense that focuses primarily on the rush.

Senior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt lit up at the mention of his top target, whom he said makes his job much easier when a pass-play is called.

“I know he’s a mismatch one-on-one against just about any corner he goes up against. I can just put it up there anywhere near him and I have faith that he’s got it and going to run the right route,” Wallerstedt said.

Because the Pride are so efficient at running, with several talented running backs carrying the ball behind a stout offensive line, opposing defenses often bring additional players into the box. This leaves Davis and the other Mountain Pointe receivers one-on-one, in prime position to make big gains off play action.

In Sept. 14’s 55-20 victory over Hamilton, Davis took a screen pass 80 yards for a touchdown against a defense sucked in to halt the Pride’s run. Senior offensive lineman Alex Vogel said those plays are crucial to balancing the offense.

“That’s what we had last year with the power running offense, that guy who can get open on a long pass play for a touchdown to keep the defense off us a little bit and not just crashing the run all the time. So hopefully he can keep doing that,” Vogel said.

Paying attention to the “little details” on each practice and game snap, Davis will walk to the sideline after a drive to review shoulder and hand positioning, or just ask advice on how to tighten up his routes.

The coaches have taken notice. A constant voice in Davis’ ear is Pride coach Rich Wellbrock, one of his biggest supporters. Mountain Pointe’s staff regularly calls plays designed for Davis to simply streak down the sideline and grab the ball over defenders in jump balls.

Wellbrock said Davis has plenty of room to improve, though.

“He’s special, but we’ve got to get him to elite status,” Wellbrock said. “That’s being there and being that threat every play, to where defenses have to pay extra attention to what he’s doing.”

While the Pride offense boasts plenty of talented players, there aren’t that many that say much in the huddle or off the field.

Davis, hearing his coach implore the juniors to make their voices heard in the locker room, has taken a more-active role in pushing for improvement, not only in his own game, but also in those of teammates.

“I try to be a vocal leader, and I talk a lot off the field, encouraging guys and stuff like that,” Davis said. “But on the field, it’s really just trying to lead with how I play and prepare.

“I’m definitely getting better at that, though.”

Davis and the Pride will be tested Friday in a home contest against 4-1 Queen Creek. It will be both teams’ first 6A Central Section game

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

Pride’s physical – and playful – offensive line getting the last laugh

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.

Zoe says there is always room for improvement.

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

MP set to open vs. Pinnacle and ‘You Know Who’

By Eric Newman, AFN Staff Writer  |   15 hrs ago

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.

Returning Mountain Pointe starters Nick Wallerstedt, at quarterback, and running back Jakim McKinney give the Pride a solid nucleus on offense. MP reached the 6A semifinals last season.  [Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Photographer]

Mountain Pointe reloads under new coach with eye on wins

One by one, players on the Mountain Pointe football team walked across the school parking lot to the practice field, placing a hand on the sign that reads “Mark Lovett Field” before entering.

It’s a tradition established in the early 2000s, after former coach and Mountain Pointe Hall of  Famer Mark Lovett passed away suddenly on the field from a heart attack.

“They told me I better make sure I do it,” new Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock said of touching the sign. “It’s a tradition handed down. It’s something the kids feel very strongly about.”

Wellbrock was hired to follow legendary coach Norris Vaughan, who stepped down last December to move back to Georgia near family.

Wellbrock, the former Basha and Desert Edge coach, now hopes to extend the winning tradition at Mountain Pointe, which has nine straight playoff appearances, including eight semifinals, and a state title.

“This has always been a position you look at from afar and it interests you,” Wellbrock said. “The kids know the expectations. We’ve flown under the radar a little bit, and we’re fine with that. When it’s time to turn it up, we will do that.”

This season, hopes for success once again start up front for the Pride.

Seniors Cole Cundary, Alex Vogel and Zach Quihuis anchor the offensive line in front of returning quarterback Nick Wallerstedt.

As a junior, Wallerstedt passed for 1,567 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns.

Some of Wallerstedt’s top targets graduated, including Sky Hinojosa, Delano Salgado and Marshawn Gibson.

But a talented group of receivers remain, led by senior Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson.

“I think we have one of the best groups we have had in the past couple years as a core,” Wallerstedt said. “We have a lot of guys that other teams have to look out for.”

Pleasant-Johnson hauled in 27 passes last season for 436 yards and four touchdowns.

Seniors receivers Jatu Gipson, Bashu Delco, Jathan Washington and junior Dominique Davis also will play a vital role in the passing game. Seniors Kenneth Lofton and Jerrick Dickson lead the way at tight end.

Mountain Pointe lost 1,000-yard rusher Gary Bragg to graduation but have another back, Jakim McKinney.

McKinney, known for his explosive burst off the ball, rushed for 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“I’m excited because it is my senior year,” McKinney said. “I’ve learned a lot from the new coaching staff. Even though people have doubted us, we are going to show them that we can make it far and even win state.”

Graduation and transfers left holes to fill in the Pride’s defense.

Defensive tackle Shomari Hayes graduated. Senior Matthew Pola-Mao, who has the eye of many college recruiters, transferred to Chandler. In the secondary, seniors Delano Salgado, Kenny Churchwell, Marshawn Gibson and Donte Lindsey all moved on to the next level.

But Mountain Pointe has capable replacements, starting up front with defensive tackle Anthony Dedrick.

“We are filling in the gaps really well,” Dedrick said. “I know what this team is and what we can do. We just need to be the greatest we can be and just go out there and play football.”

Mountain Pointe opens a week later than many schools with an Aug. 24 visit to Spencer Rattler and the Pinnacle Pioneers in north Phoenix.

It’s the start of one of the toughest schedules in the state.

Next up is a home game against rapidly improving Mountain View before the Pride heads to Las Vegas for the Polynesian Football Classic to take on national power Bingham High from South Jordan, Utah.

“What a great opportunity for our kids, community and school to be involved in something like this,” Wellbrock said. “That’s what we want. We want to be on the biggest stage not only here in the state but on the biggest stage nationally.”

Mountain Pointe then faces Hamilton, Queen Creek and Highland before taking on Desert Vista in the annual Ahwatukee Bowl.

The Pride wrap the season against Chaparral, Desert Ridge and Corona del Sol.

It will be a tough initial go-around for Wellbrock and the Pride, but they believe that they are up to the challenge.

“The schedule is brutal, but it’s exciting,” Wellbrock said. “The kids know it’s going to be a grind.

“Hopefully, when November comes around we will have learned everything we need to and go push for the gold ball.”

Mountain Pointe’s Isaiah Pola-Mao attempts a diving catch agaisnt Pinnacle.  Photo by Kristin Grover, Special to Tribune

MP’s Pola-Mao named Central Region MVP

Posted: Monday, November 21, 2016 12:25 pm  |   By Jason P. Skoda, Prep Sports Director

The 6A Central Region selected its all region team.

Mountain Pointe’s Isaiah Pola-Mao was named MVP for this play at wide receiver and safety.

Desert Vista quarterback Nick Thomas was named Offensive MVP and Desert Vista linebacker Lelon Dillard was named Defensive MVP.

Here is a look at the full team:

6A Conference All-Central Region

MVP: Isaiah Pola-Mao, Mountain Pointe

Offensive MVP: Nick Thomas, Desert Vista

Defensive MVP: Lelon Dillard, Desert Vista

Offense

RB

First team

Rashie Hodge Mt. Pointe

Cameron Brice Corona Del Sol

Tyrese Allen Desert Ridge

Second team

Delano Salgado Mountain Pointe

Kohner Cullimore Highland

Gary Bragg Mountain Pointe

QB

First team

Jack Plummer Gilbert

Offensive Line

First team

Eddie Rivas Mountain Pointe

Myles Wilson Desert Vista

Rudy Rauls Mountain Pointe

Uriah Medder Corona Del Sol

Mason Honne Mountain Pointe

Second team

Mckenzie Potterf Desert Vista

Dallin Clement Highland

Matt Fick Corona Del Sol

Nick Omitt Desert Ridge

Ian Baxter Desert Ridge

WR

First team

Keishaud White Desert Vista

David Morales Gilbert

Jake White Desert Vista

Second team

Jared Zimmerman Highland

Dawson Tanner Gilbert

Ricky Pearsall Corona Del Sol

TE

First team

James Stagg Desert Vista

Second team

Garrison Turcotte Gilbert

Defense

Secondary

First team

Antwaun Woodberry Mountain Pointe

Kenny Churchwell Mountain Pointe

Steven Gomez Desert Ridge

Donjae Logan Desert Ridge

Second team

Alijah Gammage Desert Vista

Corvan Otanez Gilbert

Caleb Humphrey Desert Vista

Brad Beaver Desert Ridge

Interior Line

First team

Ashton Dana Highland

Dylan Conner Corona Del Sol

Matthew Pola-Mao Mountain Pointe

Shomari Hayes Mountain Pointe

Second team

Christian Medeiros Desert Ridge

Noah Evan Highland

Garrett Fulton Gilbert

Brett Johnson Desert Vista

End

First team

Jalen Harris Desert Ridge

Khalif Ravenell Mountain Pointe

Second team

Trey Bussler Corona Del Sol

Dylan Bryan Gilbert

Linebacker

First team

Christian Allen Desert Ridge

Chad Porter Desert Vista

Jacob Clemens Corona Del Sol

Second team

Xaiver Cota Mountain Pointe

Michael Washington Mountain Pointe

Tate Stevens Highland

Kicker

First team

Riley Erickson Desert Vista

Second team

Tony Decozio Desert Ridge

Punter

First team

Kaden Riforgiate Corona Del So

Second team

Austin Mcnamara Highland

Returner

First team

Jaydon Brooks Mountain Pointe

Second team

Connor McKernan Gilbert

Long Snapper

First team

Adam Bay Desert Ridge

Second team

Conor Egan Desert Vista

Honorable Mentions

Desert Vista

Tristin Flores, OL

Joe Money, TE

Larry Davis, LB

Nick Lopez, OL

Jared Ostendorp, OL

Highland

Sean McCord DB

Braiden Williams DL

Jake Ohara

Hunter Short DB

Jacob Wood LB

Jalen Johnson DB

Tyler Johnson DL

David Fabok DL

Noah Newburgh DB

Danial Castillo WR

Tyler Johnson WR

Jacob Wood RB

Brydon Horne RB

Connor Williams OL

Davis Brown OL

Cody Bartz OL

Jake Kersting QB

Riley Bond OL

Mountain Pointe

Noah Grover Qb

Sky Hinojosa WR

Justice Hudson OL

Alex Vogel OL

Marshawn Gibson DB

Donte Lindsey DB

Jacob Olsen LB

Daniel Pena DT

Dakota Fey P

Gilbert

Garrison Turcotte LB

Tyler Turcotte OL

Garrett Fulton OL

DJ Ruhl DB

Corona Del Sol

Griffin Baker TE

Alex Purcell C

Kaden Riforgiate LB

Jason Staples DE

Brian McCluskey DB

Kobee Marion DB

Desert Ridge

Kylar Day

Khris Broom

Tyler Mcleve

Jason Harris

Connor Goetz

Robert Mancha

Versatility on the offensive line fuels Pride offense

Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2016 10:04 pm

The Mountain Pointe football roster lists the offensive linemen without specific positions.

No one is listed as a tackle, guard or center. Everyone is listed OL.

It reflects the match-up strategy employed this year by the Pride coaching staff.

The same five players have started the last four games, but their positions change on the basis of on the strength of the opposition’s defensive front.

Four different players have started at center over the last four games. The lineup against Corona del Sol (4-4) this week for the Pride (8-0) will be different from what its lineup last week against Desert Ridge.

“In years past we couldn’t have done that,” Mountain Pointe offensive line coach Aaron Frana said. “Have a center go play tackle? That’s a tough assignment. These are guys are like, ‘You want me to move? OK.’ They never question it.

“I love it. They want to win and they do whatever it takes to do it.”

The key–other than the players’ versatility–is the level of play of senior Eddie Rivas, who is the strategy’s lynchpin as he is moved around to take on the opposition’s top player.

“I take it as a direct challenge,” said Rivas, who has played four of the five line positions. “The coaches put their faith in me to take on the top guy and I want that responsibility, plus I know whoever plays in the position I left is going to get the job done.”

His climb to one of the best linemen in the state didn’t start out all that well when he had a chance to play in the Chandler playoff game as a sophomore.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, tell me what to do,’” Rivas said. “I think (the defense) they were going to be that fast and strong. I knew I had a lot of work do when I pulled and I hit a linebacker and he didn’t move. I was like ‘get somebody else in there.’”

Two years later, he is the key to most versatile line in the state.

“He was a big raw kid,” Frana said. “He’s matured, got stronger in the weight room and now he can match up with anyone on the edge. When you have a kid who can play all five positions, you take advantage of it.”

The idea began to take shape when senior Joe Sales-Lopez sustained a concussion and had trouble getting cleared until this week.

With Sales-Lopez, who was going to be the starting left guard, out, the lineup starting changing. Star defensive linemen Matthew Pola-Moa and Shomari Hayes rotated at tackle.

When they needed a break because of their defensive responsibilities, sophomore Alex Vogel was inserted. And when he handled himself well, it became clear the unit had another capable body.

“I was not expecting it this year,” said the 220-pound Vogel, who has started at both tackle spots and center. “I made way on to the scout team and things progressed from there. I was kind of nervous at first but at the first snap you just play.”

The other three are junior Mason Honne, who has played left tackle and center; and seniors Justice Hudson, who has played center and left guard, and Rudy Rauls, who has played right guard all year.

With all the changes, many people might expect some struggles with continuity and/or rhythm. But the Pride is churning out 345 yards rushing a game with 33 touchdowns.

“Our offensive line has played really well,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “We moved guys around in the past, like Natrell Curtis would play tackle or guard, but we’ve never done it at center before. That’s really unusual. They’ve played no matter where we’ve put them.”

Expect more of the same as the regular season wraps up and the Pride tries to clinch the 6A Central Region title this week—and possibly the fourth undefeated regular season since 2009 the following week against Gilbert.

There could be as many as six games remaining and there could just as many starting lineups along the offensive line.

“We will have a raffle to see who starts where,” Frana, who is also the co-offensive coordinator, joked. “It says a lot about them not only as athletes, but they have to be smart, too, to play different positions. We’ve put a lot on their plates and they keep going out an executing at a high level.”

– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

– Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.

 
 

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Running back Anthony Stephens #1 of Mountain Pointe is hit out of bounds during the first half of the 20th annual Tukee Bowl high school football game between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe at Mountain Pointe High School on Friday, September 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  [Photo by Billy Hardiman/Special to Tribune]

Stephens, Pride running game continue to roll without Bragg

Posted: Thursday, October 6, 2016 10:51 am

A characteristic of a seasoned running back is patience, waiting for a play to develop before turning up field.

Anthony Stephens has shown signs of being that type of runner, but he admittedly didn’t have it in him in Mountain Pointe’s third game of the year.

It was his first after being suspended for disciplinary reasons the first two games, meaning every carry was like three carries in his mind as he tried to make up for his mistake.

“I was anxious and I just wanted to go,” he said this week. “I wanted to make up for that lost time. I was the starting running back and then just like that I wasn’t. I had to calm down and see things differently.”

He sees things differently not only with the ball in his hands, but also what it truly meant to be a good teammate.

Missing that time because of something he did in the offseason cost him a more prominent role to start the year and vital time on the field.

More telling was the fact that he put himself before the team.

“I learned a lot,” Stephens said. “When you are in it for the team, it comes with a lot of sacrifices and commitments. I should have known it all along but that mistake really showed me what it means to be a teammate.”

The guy who took over his starting spot, junior Gary Bragg, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament two weeks ago in the win over Pinnacle.

Bragg was on his way to an all-state type of season with 891 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games, but now he is in rehab mode.

“All I can do is work hard and come back stronger,” Bragg said from the sidelines of the Ahwautkee Bowl.

It means Stephens and others have a chance to become the main back in the Pride’s dominant running game, which averages 327.5 yards a game entering Friday’s game at Highland (2-4).

The one thing that separates the 5-foot-10, 168-pound Stephens is that fact he only plays offense while Antwaun Woodberry (cornerback), Rashie Hodge (linebacker) and Delano Salgado (cornerback) have started on defense.

“We are going to mix it up, but we have to limit some of these guys on offense because they are so important on defense,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “Woodberry can be special, but he is kind still learning back there. Hodge could be the guy, but we don’t want to wear him down too much.”

With the way the offensive line is playing, and the versatility it has shown in recent weeks, whoever lines up in the backfield is going to find holes to their liking.

“We are going to hold this position down,” Woodberry said on Friday. “We will pick (Bragg) up. He was going off, and now we have to step up.”

Senior Eddie Rivas has played every position depending on the opponent, Mason Honne moved from tackle to center,

Justice Hudson went from center to left guard and only right guard Rudy Rauls has played the same position, Sophomore Alex Vogel has found his way into the lineup at left tackle as Matthew Pola-Mao and Shomari Hayes started to concentrate on defense only.

“If we do our job it doesn’t matter who is back there,” Honne said. “They’re all good, and we have been creating some holes. We’ve made some changes and we’ve all adjusted to it.”

It’s been a winning combination, but Vaughan said the passing game may be counted on more without Bragg, whom he called the best running back in the state.

“It’s not going to change much,” he said. “It hurts you, but these guys are going to get better. Going forward though we are probably going to throw the ball more.”

However it shakes out the rest of the season, Stephens, who is the second leading rusher with 43 carries for 316 yards and three touchdowns, is ready to make the most of his opportunity.

Patiently.

“If I see it I’ll take it, but sometimes you have to wait it out,” he said. “You have let things develop and then turn it up. A good back can do both and I think we all have it covered.”

– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

– Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.

 
 

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