Photo: Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor
By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor |
Mountain Pointe High School missed a ticket to the big dance this Saturday in Tucson, where two Chandler Unified School District high school football teams will be vying for the Division 6A state title, but head coach Norris Vaughan is upbeat.
“I’m proud of everything these guys accomplished this season,” Vaughan said. “They should be proud.”
The Pride should be proud, having turned in a great season and only falling twice through the regular season – first at the hands of one of the top teams in California and later in a hard-fought battle against the Desert Ridge Jaguars. The team sustained numerous key injuries throughout the year, including one to star defensive lineman Matthew Pola-Mao.
Mountain Pointe’s football season – and its quest for a second straight appearance in the 6A State championship – came to an end Nov. 17 when the Pride fell to the No. 4-seeded Perry Pumas 56-31 in the state semi-finals. Perry will now play Chandler High for the title.
At the end of the season, Mountain Pointe still earned the No. 1-seed in the playoffs. Vaughan and his team got there by utilizing a stable of running backs and putting one of the best defenses in the state on the field every Friday night.
Their first four games of 2017 were considered somewhat of a gauntlet: a rematch with the defending state champs, a national opponent, and a matchup with one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.
The team started off the season with a big 46-6 win over Sandra Day O’Connor before heading to the UA Brothers in Arms Classic in Mission Viejo, California, where they were pitted against the Chaminade Eagles – a team now ranked in the top 10 in its state. Knowing it would be a tough battle going in, the Pride put up a fight but fell 36-24.
Then they rebounded, and snapped off a five-game winning streak. They took down a depleted Chandler squad in a 24-21 nail-biter that showcased the defensive prowess and running ability of the Pride.
Then they blew out Mountain View 35-3 and contained Oklahoma commit Spencer Rattler enough to squeak out a win and extend their win streak to three.
Their fourth straight win came in the Tukee Bowl when they traveled to Desert Vista High School and defeated the Thunder for the second consecutive year and to break the 10-10 tie in their two-decade rivalry.
When the Highland Hawks came to Karl Kiefer stadium, though, things started to get a little rocky for the Pride. Via three first half turnovers, the Hawks took an early 13-0 lead. But behind a two-score effort from Delano Salgado in the second half, the Pride came storming back to escape with its fifth straight win.
When Mountain Pointe was set to defend its home turf for a second straight week, head coach Jeremy Hathcock and the Desert Ridge Jaguars weren’t going to let them off the hook.
Even though the Pride picked off four passes in the game, the Jaguars handed them their first loss at Karl Kiefer stadium since 2011.
The Jaguars stacked the box, filling all the running lanes and forced the Pride to show they could throw the ball. A team that produced 3,801 rushing yards and averaged 292 rushing yards per game was held to only 190 between five players. Not one player rushed for over 100 yards.
While the loss was an eye-opener, the Pride rebounded and ended the season with two straight wins. Due to the strength of their schedule throughout the season, Mountain Pointe captured the No. 1-seed.
Of their 10 regular season games, five teams ended up earning playoff berths, four of which were in the top 10. Two other teams were left out of the playoffs because of the regional winners that were ranked below them.
The Pride then cruised through the first two-rounds of the playoffs, blowing out their opponents by a combined score of 109 – 7, which included a 44-7 victory over a Highland team.
With a second-straight trip to the state championship on the line, Vaughan said his players might have run into one of the best quarterbacks they have seen all season.
That quarterback was Perry’s 6-foot-1, 197-pound quarterback Brock Purdy, who threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns against a Mountain Pointe Pride defense that had been stout all season long. Along with the air attack, running back Kenny Fultz ran for 95 yards and three touchdowns to put the nail in the coffin.
“I think (he’s) as good as we’ve seen all season,” Vaughan said. “He’s magical back there, he’s a phenomenal quarterback.”
The good news for the Pride, is they won’t have to see Purdy in the future. The bad news, though, is that Mountain Pointe will graduate 27 seniors at the end of the school year.
That means Vaughan will have to find a way to replace several key players, including a majority of his secondary in Kenny Churchwell, Delano Salgado, and Marshawn Gibson, who led the team with eight interceptions this season. Other key seniors include Shomari Hayes, Jacob Olsen, and Tyre Johnson.
While Vaughan will lose several key defensive players. Pola-mao will be back next season, along with quarterback Nick Wallerstedt – who came into his own late in the season throwing for 170 yards against Perry, and leading rusher Jakim McKinney.
McKinney was a key clog in the Mountain Pointe offense this year and formed one of the better rushing duo’s in the state with senior Gary Bragg.
While they both rushed for over 1,000 yards his season – Bragg with 1,021 and McKinney with 1,334 – the junior back found the end zone 18 times this season for the Pride and should have a bright future in the backfield with Wallerstedt next season.
But whether Vaughan will be able to replace his stout defense from 2017 is a question only time will answer.