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Mountain Pointe High School head football Coach Norris Vaughan applauds his team during the first round of the 2017 playoffs.  Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor

Vaughan resigns as Mountain Pointe football head coach

By Greg Macafee AFN Sports Editor  |  

After nine seasons at the helm of the Mountain Pointe High School’s football program, Head Coach Norris Vaughan resigned on Wednesday.

Mountain Pointe Principal Bruce Kipper said Vaughan and his wife, Ellen, are moving back to Georgia to be closer to family.

“I want to thank Coach Vaughan for a great 9 years. He has had a great impact on the entire Mountain Pointe school community,” Kipper said.

Over the past nine seasons, Vaughan acquired a record of 99-19 – including eight trips to the Final Four of the 6A State Tournament, two runner-up finishes and capping an undefeated season in 2013 with the state championship crown.

Before making his way to Mountain Pointe, he compiled a record of 47-5 at Wickenburg High, which puts his Arizona coaching record at 146-24 – making him the winningest coach in the state.

The Pride captured a record of 10-3 in 2017, losing to out of state opponent Chaminade early on the season. Mountain Pointe didn’t concede another loss until the Desert Ridge game – its first loss at Karl Kiefer stadium since September 2011.

Coming off another semi-final run, the team is in good hands after Vaughan’s departure.

They will return quarterback Nick Wallerstedt and leading rusher Jakim McKinney. They will have some work to do defensively, replacing almost their entire secondary. Fortunately, the Pride will see the return of top-ranked lineman Matthew Pola-Mao.

“Not only is he one of the greatest high school coaches in Arizona history, he is an inspiring leader who cares for his players and wants them to be outstanding young men, on and off the football field,” Kipper added.

Vaughn has been honored as Arizona Coach of the Year three times. In 2013, he was named State Coach of the Year by the Arizona Football Coaches Association, East Valley Tribune, Arizona Cardinals, azcentral, and American Monthly Football Magazine. He was also a nominee for the NFL’s Don Shula Award.

Other honors include being chosen to coach in both the Under Armour All American Game and the Army All American Game, as well as being named the Arizona Cardinals “Coach of the Year” in 2009 and 2013.

     

    Mountain Pointe’s Gary Bragg, #8, stiff-arms Perry defender Darius Holton, #26.  Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst

    Perry ends Mountain Pointe’s quest for second straight state championship appearance

    By Eddie Poe AFN Contributor  |  Nov 18, 2017

    The quest for a second straight 6A Final appearance fell one game short for top-seeded Mountain Pointe.

    Senior quarterback Brock Purdy and the vaunted, high powered Perry Pumas’ offense proved far too much for the Pride. Behind 427 passing yards and three touchdowns, Purdy led the fourth-seeded Pumas to a 56-31 victory over Mountain Pointe in the 6A state semifinals on Friday at McClintock High School in Tempe.

    “I think (he’s) as good as we’ve seen all season,” coach Norris Vaughan said. “He’s magical back there, he’s a phenomenal quarterback.”

    The stout defense of Mountain Pointe got an early look at Purdy and he wasted little time showing them why the Pumas came into Friday averaging just over 57 points per game and the 6’1 quarterback set a single-season record with 48 touchdown passes.

    On a quick five-play opening drive, Purdy led the Pumas down the field and found Jordan Young on a 30-yard touchdown pass to give Perry an early 7-0 lead.

    The following drive, receiver D’Shayne James got past the Pride secondary and Purdy connected on a 70-yard pass, leading to a 16-yard touchdown pass to Colby Dickie. Just five minutes into the game, the Pumas were up 14-0.

    Mountain Pointe responded with a 20-yard field goal from Ben Abercrombie but the Pride had no answer for Purdy as a 21-3 deficit then turned into 28-3 as running back Kenny Fultz got past two defenders and took it to the house for a 40-yard touchdown.

    “They beat us in every way,” Vaughan said. “They outplayed us, outscored us, outcoached us, and when we did do something right we gave it right back.”

    The Pride came out of the half trailing 35-17, and with a new sense of hope it seemed.

    Quarterback Nick Wallerstedt ran it in from 17 yards out on the opening drive of the second half, and the Pride were within two possessions, 35-24, for the first time since the opening quarter.

    It was short-lived though as the Pumas returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield. Mountain Pointe’s special teams ate at them all game long as Perry often began each drive in Pride territory. Purdy and the Pumas drove down the field and on a third down play at the goal line, with the Pride looking for a huge stop to keep the game within two scores, Fultz found the end zone from six yards out on a sweep, effectively stunning the Pride.

    Mountain Pointe was hurt often by penalties and on several occasions, allowed Perry to move down the field with ease because of careless defensive mistakes.

    “I didn’t think it was all bad,” Vaughan said. “We did a lot of good things too, we just didn’t have that depth and it hurt us.”

    “Those guys on the other side deserved it.”

    A loss in the semifinals was not how Vaughan and his team had envisioned its season coming to an end. After falling in last year’s 6A Final to Chandler — who return to the state final and will face Perry — the Pride felt strongly that they had unfinished business to take care of.

    After a 36-24 loss to Chaminade Prep (West Hills, CA) during the second week of the season, Mountain Pointe took care of Chandler the following week and cruised to five consecutive wins. Their season nearly came to a halt on October 12 when they were upset by Desert Ridge at home but responded with two victories to end the regular season.

    The Pride were surprised with the top overall seed in the 6A playoffs and handled Cibola in the opening round, 65-0.

    The quarterfinals matched Mountain Pointe up with the Highland Hawks. Both teams were vying for a tough battle much like their regular season matchup where Highland took a 13-0 lead into halftime at Mountain Pointe, but were stunned by the Pride as Vaughan and his team mounted a 14-13 come-from-behind win.

    Highland stood little chance against the Pride in the highly anticipated rematch, falling 44-7.

    With key players on the offensive line such as Matthew Palo-Mao missing a good portion of the season, Vaughan wasn’t quite sure how the season was going to end up.

    “I thought we had a chance to be good,” he said. “We definitely struggled with injuries all season, we really missed some guys.”

    Nonetheless, the Pride persevered, all the way to the state semifinals. Led by one of the state’s top defensive units, highlighted by Kenny Churchwell, Marshawn Gibson and Delano Salgado in the secondary, and Tyre Johnson and Shomari Hayes up front, Mountain Pointe gave opposing offenses all sorts of fits.

    On the offensive side, JaKim McKinney, Gary Bragg and Salgado spearheaded a running game that made throwing the ball look mostly obsolete. McKinney ran for over 1,000 yards on the season and at 5’7 with out of this world speed, scampered all over opposing defenses.

    At the helm, Wallerstedt came into his own at the quarterback position as the season went on. His ability to manage the game early on in the season eventually led to the opening up of the offense and an accuracy through the air that will be tough to defend next season.

    The Pride will say goodbye to 27 seniors in the spring and for many of them on Friday, tears were shed and heads were hung in defeat as their quest to make it to Tucson came up short.

    But until next season, Mountain Pointe has all the reason in the world to hold their heads high.

    “I’m proud of everything these guys accomplished this season,” Vaughan said. “They should be proud.”

       

      Photo: Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor

      Despite semi-final loss, the Pride should be proud

      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.

       

      Photo: Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor

      Mountain Pointe facing familiar foe after first-round blowout

      By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  

      As everyone expected, No. 1 Mountain Pointe High School breezed by No. 16 Cibola High Friday night to advance to the second round of the 6A state playoffs.

      The Pride jumped out to a quick lead and built a 37-0 lead before the half ended. At the final whistle, the Pride held 65-0 lead and began looking to their next matchup as they attempt to return to the state championship for the second straight year.

      To accomplish that goal, the Pride will have to get through a familiar foe, a team that pushed them to the brink earlier this year.

      Back on Oct. 6, Mountain Pointe (9-2) committed a trio of first-quarter turnovers that allowed the Highland High Hawks (8-3) to build a 13-0 first-half lead.

      But the Pride team that came out of the locker room at halftime looked like a completely different squad.

      Behind a Delano Salgado 37-yard touchdown run and a Gary Bragg one-yard touchdown run, the Pride stormed back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. They also held the Hawks scoreless in the second half and escaped with a 14-13 win.

      This time around, things might be a little different.

      One big factor of the first meeting was Mountain Pointe’s slow start. Turning the ball over three times can often lead to a large deficit that some teams don’t have the ability to overcome.

      Also, Mountain Pointe quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, who threw one interception and fumbled twice in the first matchup, has grown as both a player and a passer since that game.

      The junior gunslinger threw for only 41 yards in that game and since then has yet to throw under 100 yards. He threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns on Friday against Cibola.

      One player that Wallerstedt will have to watch out for in this matchup is defensive back Jalen Johnson, who’s picked off four passes this season for the Hawks.

      The Hawks come into Friday night after a big 41-21 win over No. 9-seed Desert Mountain on their home field.

      But just like that game in October, the Hawks will have to travel to Karl Kiefer Stadium and attempt to beat the Pride on their home field – something only one team has accomplished since 2011.

      First-year head coach Brock Farrel and the Hawks bring a lot of talent to the table. They have received contributions from several players this year, but junior Kohner Cullimore and senior Jacob Wood have been two of the biggest.

      They have played on both sides of the ball this year and have been relentless as well. Cullimore, has racked up 54 tackles this season from the safety position and picked off two passes.

      On offense, Cullimore has carried the ball 70 times for 360 yards and seven touchdowns and he als has caught 20 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. It doesn’t stop there for the superstar junior, as he also returned has two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2017.

      Jacob Wood has been just as big for the Hawks this season. He’s rushed for a team-high 460 yards and six touchdowns this season, including a 91-yard, three-touchdown performance against Gilbert on Oct. 20. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior has racked up 62 tackles from his linebacker position and also has been just as big in the passing game, picking off four passes.

      Mountain Pointe boasts one of the best defenses in 6A, and to take home a second straight playoff victory, it will need to isolate both Wood and Cullimore on the offensive side of the ball. The line will also have to key in on these two, along with Highland leading tackler Tate Speaker, who has 99 tackles on the season.

      The Pride’s ability to run the ball has been its strength all season long. The team has a stable of backs that includes Bragg, Jakim McKinney, Salgado and senior Je’on Moss, has recently emerged, scoring two touchdowns in the past two games.

      Their success on the ground also has set up the passing game for Wallerstedt, giving him time in the pocket to either throw or to tuck the ball and run if no one is open.

      If the Pride can establish their running game and avoid turning the ball over, it should be able to walk away with this one and advance to the semifinals for a matchup with the winner of No. 4-seed Perry and No. 5-seed Hamilton.

      No. 1 Mountain Pointe and No. 8 Highland kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, at Mountain Pointe High School.

      -Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee at gmacafee@timespublications.com. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee

      Mountain Pointe’s Jakim McKinney, #33, reaches out to catch the ball before heading into the end zone for the Pride’s second touchdown.  Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst

      Mountain Pointe stomps Cibola

      By Ryan Clarke AFN Contributor  11.4.17

      No. 1 Mountain Pointe flexed its muscle in Ahwatukee on Friday, rolling over the Cibola Raiders 65-0.

      The Pride got off to a relatively slow start, but once the scoring opened up, it was all Mountain Pointe. Jakim McKinney’s 56-yard run made it 7-0 Pride midway through the first quarter.

      Only a couple minutes later, a 50-yard pass from Nick Wallerstedt to Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson gave Mountain Pointe a 13-0 lead. After a 65-yard run by Gary Bragg, pick-six by Marshawn Gibson, touchdown run by Je’on Moss and 34-yard field goal, it was 37-0 Pride at the half.

      Mountain Pointe dominated the football on both ends, having its way with a Raiders team that was visibly less athletic, talented and disciplined than the Pride. Head coach Norris Vaughan said his team was simply dominant.

      “We just played well in every department,” Vaughan said. “We had too much speed for them, we played well and we executed. That’s all I can hope for.”

      It was more of the same in the second half for the Pride as they continued to crush Cibola. Bragg’s 14-yard run made it 44-0 halfway through the third quarter. After a big punt return, Wallerstedt found Sky Hinoiosa for the 10-yard score, giving the Pride a 51-0 lead through three quarters of play.

      With plenty of backup players in, Mountain Pointe scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter thanks to its defensive and special teams prowess. A blocked field goal attempt was returned for 69 yards by Kobe Blackwell to extend the Pride’s lead to 58, while a rushing touchdown by Ahmen Williams brought the game to its final score of 65-0.

      Next up for Mountain Pointe is a matchup with Highland, who the Pride scraped past 14-13 on Oct. 6. Vaughan called the Hawks a “tough team” and looks forward to what his group can do.

      “Last time we had like three turnovers in the first quarter,” Vaughan said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball and not do that kind of stuff. I think we’ll be fine.”

      Mountain Pointe got two offensive linemen — Matthew Pola-Mao and Cole Cundary — back from injury on Friday. It made a world of difference protecting Wallerstedt and getting a push in the run game.

      Fully healthy and playing its best football, the Pride enter next Friday’s matchup with high confidence. All that remains is executing between the lines once again in front of their home fans.

       

      Jakim McKinney rushes againt Desert Ridge in the fourth quarter on Thursday, October 12th. (Photo: Carlos Salcedo/azcentral sports)

      Arizona high school football championship brackets

      , azcentral sportsPublished 12:48 p.m. MT Oct. 14, 2017 | Updated 9:03 a.m. MT Oct. 30, 2017

      The Arizona high school football brackets are set. Get all the matchups and a breakdown for each division here. We’ll update each week with the latest scores. 

      6A football tournament bracket

      The 6A state championship will be Saturday, Dec. 2, at Arizona Stadium at the University of Arizona at 7 p.m. | See the AIA bracket.

      First round

      Friday, Nov. 3

      No. 16 Yuma Cibola at No. 1 Phoenix Mountain Pointe, 7 p.m.

      No. 9 Scottsdale Desert Mountain at No. 8 Gilbert Highland, 7 p.m.

      No. 12 Mesa Skyline at No. 5 Chandler Hamilton, 7 p.m.

      No. 13 Anthem Boulder Creek at No. 4 Perry, 7 p.m.

      No. 14 Mesa Mountain View at No. 3 Chandler, 7 p.m.

      No. 11 Laveen Cesar Chavez at No. 6 Phoenix Pinnacle, 7 p.m.

      No.  10 Phoenix Horizon at No. 7 Mesa Red Mountain, 7 p.m.

      No. 15 Avondale Westview at No. 2 Mesa Desert Ridge, 7 p.m.

      Bracket Breakdown: Chandler is playing the best football right now. So the No. 3 seed will only serve as motivation for a team that doesn’t need a lot of motivating. Chandler took out a No. 5 seed Chandler Hamilton in a 50-14 drubbing Friday night.

      Chandler and Pinnacle in the second round will be huge. Chandler needed overtime to beat Pinnacle early in the year, but Chandler lost four defensive starters and wide receiver Gunner Romney to injuries in that game.

      Desert Ridge, the No. 2 seed, is a nice story, but it will be tough to get past Chandler in the bottom-half semifinal. Mountain Pointe is a surprise No. 1 seed but has struggled down the stretch, even in wins. A Perry-Hamilton quarterfinal is going to be another shootout classic. Whoever wins that will still have to face a physical Mountain Pointe team in the semifinals. If Perry gets to the semis, I like the Pumas’ chances to reach the state final for the first time in their history. But this is Chandler’s season to win again. 

      Gilbert’s Aiden Halley, #54, makes a last effort to stop Pride’s Je’on Moss, #13, as he heads into the endzone for a touchdown at the end of the first quarter.  |  Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst

      Mountain Pointe squeaks by Gilbert

      By Eddie Poe AFN Contributor  |  October 27, 2017

      From the opening kickoff, it was the quintessential showing of fortitude from both teams.

      As the clock ran out and teams shook hands, players from the winning side raised their helmets and yelled with excitement and satisfaction as they jumped in the air in unison. On the losing side, players shed tears while others simply hung their heads in defeat.

      Led by JaKim McKinney’s 200-plus yard showing on the ground and Ben Abercrombie’s two field goals — including the 31-yard game winner as time expired — No. 2-ranked Mountain Pointe defeated No.17-ranked Gilbert on Friday night at Karl Kiefer Stadium, 33-30.

      Purdue-commit Jack Plummer went aerial on the Mountain Pointe (8-2) defense all night long to the tune of four touchdown passes, but a steady running game led by McKinney, Delano Salgado and Je’on Moss proved to be too much in the end for Gilbert (4-6).

      “We played one heck of a quarterback tonight,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. “We had a tough time getting to him.”

      Trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter, Plummer and the Tigers caught the Pride off guard.

      On a flea flicker play, Plummer launched a pass downfield, connecting with Dawson Tanner for 47 yards and the first sign of movement for Gilbert. A few plays later, Plummer found Oscar Lopez in the back of the end zone for the Tigers’ first score of the game. A successful two-point conversion gave them an 8-7 lead with just under a minute remaining in the first quarter.

      Wasting little time, Mountain Pointe fed McKinney for two quick first down gains and on the third play of the ensuing drive, Moss took it to the house.

      Barreling over several Gilbert players and breaking a handful of tackles, Moss trucked through the Tigers’ defense for a 30-yard touchdown run to give Mountain Pointe a 13-8 lead.

      No less than five minutes later, Salgado fielded a punt from Gilbert and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown. Except, the Pride were called for a holding penalty and the touchdown was swiftly called back.

      All disappointment was thrown out the window on the ensuing play as Wallerstedt handed off to McKinney and the Gilbert defense could only watch in awe as the 5’7 running back turned on the jets and scampered the length of the field for an 83-yard touchdown run.

      “We ran hard tonight,” Vaughan said.

      From that point on until late in the third quarter, Mountain Pointe and Gilbert traded blows, eventually setting up a game tying drive in the fourth quarter.

      Trailing 30-23 and following a forced Mountain Pointe punt by Gilbert, Plummer took the Tigers the length of the field for a game tying drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock.

      After moving the chains and completing four consecutive passes, a costly defensive pass interference penalty committed by the Pride moved Gilbert into the red zone. One play later, Plummer found Drew Hudson on an out route from seven yards out to tie the game 30-30 with just over four minutes remaining.

      Starting from its own 37-yard line, Mountain Pointe returned to the one thing it knew best. With the help of McKinney on the ground and a 17-yard pass to Marshawn Gibson, the Pride moved well within Abercrombie’s range.

      With two seconds remaining, Abercrombie drilled it through the uprights from 31 yards out and the Mountain Pointe players rushed the field to greet their savior.

      Rushing for well over 200 yards on the night, McKinney eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season. Kenneth Lofton recorded a sack of Plummer in the third quarter to finish the season with a team leading 8.5 sacks.

      Unable to hide amongst the many positives, penalties haunted Mountain Pointe for the game’s entirety. A number of long plays were called back on costly penalties and in most other scenarios, would have been the nail in the coffin for the Pride.

      Vaughan and Mountain Pride will look to drastically improve upon its mistakes as it now prepares for the 6A playoffs, beginning next week. 

         

        Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor

        Pride, Thunder look to wrap up season with wins

        By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  10.27.17

        With one week remaining in the regular season, Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista come into their final week’s matchup at opposite ends of the spectrum.

        The Pride bounced backed from a loss to Desert Ridge with a blowout victory of Corona del Sol, and the Thunder fell to that same Desert Ridge squad last week for its third straight loss.

        Both teams remain optimistic as the state playoff tournament approaches.

        Mountain Pointe vs. Gilbert

        In its final regular season matchup of the season, the Pride (7-2) will take on Purdue commit Jack Plummer and the Gilbert Tigers (4-5).

        Mountain Pointe has faced off with talented quarterbacks all season long, but mobile signal callers have given the team fits this season.

        Although the result was a win, Spencer Rattler and the Pinnacle offense got to a talented Pride defense for 34 points.

        Derek Kline and Desert Vista scored 16 in a hard-fought battle.

        Desert Ridge tormented the Pride with an option run game.

        Plummer has pummeled defenses all season long, throwing for 2,550 yards, 31 touchdowns and only seven interceptions on just under 300 attempts.

        Although Plummer looks like a pocket passer with a 6-foot-5 stature, he has a deceptive ability to run the ball as well, tallying 370 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season.

        If the talented Pride defensive line can keep Plummer contained in the pocket, it should be able to pick up some easy stops in the backfield.

        Look for Mountain Pointe’s secondary to take advantage of Plummer’s quick decisions as it has given opposing quarterbacks fits all season long, picking off 16 passes in the process.

        The biggest threat through the air for the Tigers has been senior Dawson Tanner. The 5-foot-10 receiver has caught a team-high 48 passes for 795 yards and 12 touchdowns, and has been Plummer’s favorite target all season long.

        Along with Tanner, Plummer has also spread the ball around to Domonick Amendolara and Drew Hudson, who both have over 300 yards receiving and have combined for six touchdowns.

        Kenny Churchwell, Marshawn Gibson, Delano Salgado and company will present a formidable opposition for this trio of receivers, though.

        Offensively, the game plan hasn’t really changed all season long for the Pride. Although the lead back has changed from game to game, Jakim McKinney, Gary Bragg and Delano Salgado have almost been unstoppable this year, averaging close to 260 yards per game.

        When the rushing game has been stymied, quarterback Nick Wallerstedt has been more than comfortable using his legs in passing situations.

        He is also coming into his own as a passer, throwing for a season-high three touchdowns against Corona del Sol on Friday, his first game this season with more than one passing touchdown.

        The Mountain Pointe offense will be met by tough defense, however.

        It is led by Tyler Laganke, Corvan Otanez and Kawai Lucio. Laganke has been the leader for the Tigers defense, leading the team in both tackles with 107 and sacks with six.

        Otanez is second on the team in tackles with 91 but leads the team in interceptions. These two alone should provide plenty of resistance, especially with a berth in the state playoffs on the line for Gilbert.

        The Pride play at home on Friday; the two teams kick off at 7 p.m.

        Desert Vista vs Corona del Sol

        This game is an absolute must-win  for the Thunder as a loss to Corona del Sol, a team with only one win, could push Desert Vista out of the playoff picture.

        After providing some resistance for part of the night against No. 2-ranked Desert Ridge, the Thunder head into Friday night with some confidence and a hope that some of their injured starters can make a return for the season finale.

        Coach Daniel Hinds said he has been hit with injuries this year more than any other in his 16 years of coaching.

        Without the presence of Jake Smith, Keishaud White and Navy commit James Stagg, who are three of the Thunder’s top four receivers, the Desert Vista offense has been somewhat stagnant.

        The defense has stepped up in situations, but after a 35-7 loss to Desert Ridge, Hinds admitted they can only do that for so long.

        Although their record doesn’t reflect it, the Thunder will be met by a high-powered offense from Corona del Sol led by junior quarterback Ryan Helt and junior wide receiver Ricky Pearsall.

        Just recently, Pearsall set a new single-game record for receiving yards when he caught 14 passes for 342 yards and five touchdowns. In the same game, Helt threw for 510 yards total.

        If the defense can hold Helt and Pearsall to a minimum, look for the Desert Vista offense to have a breakout game one week before state as the Aztecs defense has allowed 341 points this season and are currently on a seven-game losing streak.

        Quarterback Derek Kline should be able to take on this struggling Corona del Sol defense and lead his Thunder into the state tournament. If the Thunder can creep in, don’t be surprised if they surprise a few teams in the playoffs when they return to full health, as they showed earlier this season.

        Desert Vista hosts with kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday.

        Mountain Pointe’s Jakim McKinney, #33, finds a blocking hole to run through on the way to scoring Pride’s second touchdown. Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst

        Pride get back on track with big win over Corona

         
        By Eddie Poe AFN Contributor  |  10.20.17

        Quarterback Nick Wallerstedt found the end zone three times through the air and once on the ground. JaKim McKinney and Gary Bragg each ran for two touchdowns. Kenny Churchwell and Delano Salgado manned the secondary with ease.

        No. 3-ranked Mountain Pointe returned to its brand of football on Friday night and finished the regular season unbeaten on the road, defeating the Corona del Sol Aztecs at Hascall Henshaw Stadium, 56-6.

        A week after suffering its first loss at home since 2011 to the hands of then No. 5-ranked Desert Ridge, Mountain Pointe (7-2) controlled both sides of the ball from the opening kickoff and cruised to an easy win over Corona (1-8).

        “I’m really proud with how these guys rebounded,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. “It was a great team victory, we needed this.”

        After being held to just 181 yards on the ground against Desert Ridge, the Mountain Pointe rushing attack proved relentless on Friday night as it has most of the season, with McKinney and Bragg leading the way.

        Coming into its final road game of the season averaging 258.8 yards per game — leading all 6A Central teams — the Pride offensive attack stood tall behind its offensive line as the running game returned to its former self and Wallerstedt aired it out.

        On its opening drive of the game, Mountain Pointe recorded two quick first downs and on a broken coverage down the field, Wallerstedt found Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson for a wide open touchdown to give the Pride an early 7-0 lead.

        It was the first of three passing touchdowns for the junior quarterback and his best game of the season through the air. He credits his improvements throughout the season to both his faith and his coaches on the sideline.

        “The coaches have really been believing in me,” Wallerstedt said. “I’ve just been believing in my arm and the rest has figured itself out.”

        “He’s really coming into himself,” Vaughan said.

        On the defensive side of the ball, the Pride forced two Ryan Helt interceptions and recovered a fumble on Corona’s first drive of the second half.

        Mountain Pointe’s defensive unit has often failed to receive the notoriety during the season’s victories, but with a 6A Central leading 14 interceptions coming into Friday night’s game, it showed why it’s a force to be reckon with.

        “We did everything we wanted to do tonight,” Vaughan said. “The defense stepped up and really forced [them] into some mistakes.”

        Heading into its final regular season game, the game plan for Mountain Pointe is to keep things simple. Don’t try to do too much but also place an importance on making the plays that need to be made.

        “We just need to focus on consistency,” Vaughan said. “Penalties continue to hurt us and we really need to work on that.”

        Mountain Pointe will look to carry momentum into its final regular season game next week and look to make a statement as it heads into the playoffs. The Pride will take on the No. 15-ranked Gilbert Tigers on senior night.

        Lucas Wright breaks away from Mountain Pointe defenders at Mountain Pointe High School Thursday night. | By Greg Macafee

        Desert Ridge knocks off No. 1 Mountain Pointe

        The Mountain Pointe secondary picked off four Desert Ridge passes, but could never jump start their running game as they suffered their second loss of the season Thursday night at Karl Kiefer stadium 31-20.

        After a back and forth battle throughout the game, Desert Ridge quarterback Cooper Schmidt scampered into the end zone on a quarterback keeper from 17-yards out to give the Jags a 24-20 lead. But with 3:28 left in the game, they still needed a defensive stop to secure the victory and that’s exactly what they got.

        Nick Wallerstedt found Sky Hinojosa across the middle for a crucial 4th and 10 conversion and it seemed like the Pride were going to complete a comeback. But two plays later, junior linebacker Gabe Segura jumped a route to pick off Wallerstedt and take it 50-plus yards for a pick-six touchdown to secure the upset victory.

        “Our kids showed so much resilience and being that we have 12 sophomores we could’ve came out and tanked but I think we really found out who we are today,” Desert Ridge head coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “Like I tell our kids, this is really a great victory, enjoy today, shoot enjoy it tomorrow but come Saturday were back to work.”  

        The key to victory Thursday night for the Jaguars was the battle at the line of scrimmage. Desert Ridge stymied a Mountain Pointe running game that has been almost unstoppable all season long, tallying over 2,000 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.

        Coming into the game, Mountain Pointe’s leading rusher Jakim McKinney had 741 yards on the season and was held to just 68 yards, his second lowest total of the season. While the running game was held in check, Wallerstedt was forced to pass but often used his legs to escape a strong Desert Ridge pass rush. He scored the final points of the ball game for the Pride with 1:12 left in the third quarter on a 29-yard quarterback keeper.

        “They just put a lot of people in the box,” Mountain Pointe Head Coach Norris Vaughan said. “So, we just threw the ball and when we didn’t convert, we had to kick field goals.”

        After Wallerstedt’s touchdown run, the Jaguars would answer with a drive that was highlighted by junior running back Lucas Wright, who finished the game with 116 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards. Sophomore quarterback Matthew Purnell first connected with him early in the drive for a long pass completion, moving the chains into the Pride’s half of the field.

        Then, Purnell found Stanford commit Donjae Logan for a 10-yard pass and catch that put the Jags on the one-yard line, setting up Wright for a one-yard touchdown run to bring the Jags within three. Then they took the lead on Schmidt’s quarterback keeper and never looked back.

        The combination of Schmidt and Purnell running a quarterback option offense was tricky for a Mountain Pointe defense and Vaughan said they had a hard time stopping it.

        “We didn’t play real well, they did a great job, they beat us all the credit to them,” Vaughan said. “But we really had trouble stopping them. Their little option game hurt us and I think that was pretty much the story of the game.”

        Historically, the Pride have been almost unbeatable at home with their last loss at Karl Kiefer stadium coming on September 30, 2011 against Brophy College Prep. After the loss, Vaughan said you can’t win them all and we can only move forward to the next game.

        For the Pride, that comes on October 20 when they travel to Corona del Sol to take on the Aztecs at 7 p.m.  

        Do you have a human-interest or feature story idea? Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee atgmacafee@timespublications.com or by phone at 585-610-2344. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee