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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 High School football practices with new coach Rich Wellbrock on July 25, 2018. Nick Oza/azcentral sports

Mountain Pointe enters new era with coach Rich Wellbrock

, Arizona RepublicPublished 7:06 p.m. MT July 25, 2018

Rich Wellbrock keeps seeing Spencer Rattler.

In his first loss as Chandler Basha’s coach last season, Wellbrock watched the Phoenix Pinnacle quarterback carve up his defense with four touchdown passes.

When he saw Rattler with his Oklahoma visor this June at 7-on-7 passing tournaments, Wellbrock would joke with him.

“I told him, ‘I just can’t get away from you,’ ” Wellbrock said.

For better or worse, Wellbrock will see Rattler again on Aug. 24 when Phoenix Mountain Pointe begins its Wellbrock coaching era. Rattler is 0-3 in his varsity career leading the Pinnacle offense against the Pride.

Mountain Pointe is moving past the Norris Vaughan era, a tough transition for any coach.

Vaughan set the bar extremely high. Mountain Pointe reached no less than the 6A state semifinals in eight of Vaughan’s nine seasons as coach.

His 2013 team was the last Arizona team to beat national powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. It opened the season with a win at Bishop Gorman on national TV on its way to a 14-0 record and the school’s only state championship.

Wellbrock is an established coach (he won a state championship at Goodyear Desert Edge), and he brought with him one of the best defensive coordinators in the state in Conrad Hamilton, who served in that capacity for two of Scottsdale Chaparral’s state championships in the Charlie Ragle era.

“It’s still going to be punishing,” said senior cornerback Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, who is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, has a long wingspan, off-the-charts athleticism and picked up eight college football offers in one week.

“Us losing Coach Vaughan, we didn’t lose nothing much. We’ve got a great head coach and defensive coach coming in. We come in with a lot of energy. We can run cover 1, 2, 3, 4. We’re going to execute. This is going to be a good season.”

Mountain Pointe will soon see how good it still is as it transitions from it’s greatest football era under Norris Vaughan.  Richard Obert, azcentral sports

Wellbrock will lean heavily on a loaded, fast defense, especially up front where he has three guys who could dominate off the edge.

Mountain Pointe’s offense may have a faster tempo than it did under Vaughan and should remain electric.

But who will lead it?

Wellbrock has two good quarterback options – the veteran Nick Wallerstedt and the ultra-athletic Ahmen Williams, who is ready to break out.

“Nick has done a phenomenal job, great kid,” Wellbrock said. “The other young man is a senior. They had even reps all summer. Now it’s ‘Who’s going to be the best leader?’

“I think both kids are tough kids and they’re going to want us to win football games. And that’s the biggest thing.”

Key returners

A punishing, big-play run game and physical defense have always been the Pride’s strong suits, and this team should be no different with running back Jakim McKinney (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) fresh off leading the Pride last season with 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing.

Wallerstedt is back after passing for 1,567 yards and rushing for 711 yards and totaling 20 TDs.

Pleasant-Johnson had 10 pass breakups, leading a fast secondary.

Defensive end Kenneth Lofton (6-3, 220) had 12 sacks.

Ready to break out

Senior slot Jathan Washington (5-9, 155) has a gear seldom seen on the field. He carried the ball just 10 times last season but averaged more than nine yards a carry. He could be electrifying on bubble screens, getting him out in space.

Defensive end Anthony Dedrick and tight end Jerrick Dickson are monsters on a front line that will make it tough for offenses to get going.

Safety Jatu Gipson is about to emerge as a star in the secondary.

Junior wide receiver Dominique Davis (6-1, 165) is ready to make his name as a big-play threat.

Key date

Mountain Pointe opens Aug. 24 at Phoenix Pinnacle, where it will try to keep Rattler, the No. 1-ranked 2019 QB in the nation, from beating the Pride for the first time in his career.

Final word

“I feel like they really understand what is going on with us and team and they’re trying to make us get better and win state.” – RB Jakim McKinney.

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.

No. 6 Jakim McKinney, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, 5-8, 170  [Sr. Carlos Salcedo/Special to azcentral sports]

Running wild: Top 10 RBs for 2018 Arizona high school football season

, The Republic | azcentral.comPublished 2:34 p.m. MT June 11, 2018

In this age of the no-huddle offense fueled by the passing game, very great offense has to have a quality running back.

There will be no shortage in Arizona high schools during the 2018 football season.

Top 10 running backs

No. 1 Bijan Robinson, Tucson Salpointe Catholic, 5-11, 190, Jr.

He has proven to be a dynamic back on Friday nights since he was a freshman. Last year, he emerged among the top eight candidates for azcentral Sports Player of the Year with his ability to make plays out of nothing and to dominate in 4A, helping  the Lancers reach the 4A final.

No. 2 DeCarlos Brooks, Chandler, 5-10, 190, Sr.

With offers from Pac-12 California and Oregon State, Brooks is ready to impress the country as the marquee, featured back with Drake Anderson moving onto college at Northwestern. Brooks had more than 1,000 yards rushing last season as a parttime running back in Chandler’s potent, well-rounded offense.

No. 3 Darvon Hubbard, Scottsdale Chaparral, 6-0, 200, Jr.

He moved from Akron, Ohio, late last summer, and gave a sampling of what’s to come this season with his ability to break tackles. Great downhill runner who will be asked to catch passes out of the backfield in a new spread offense. Has a few gears that makes him a top weapon.

No. 4 Tawee Walker, Peoria Centennial, 5-10, 195, Sr.

This was a gift from Las Vegas heaven for coach Richard Taylor, who was wondering how he was going to replace two-time, 2,000-yard rusher Zidane Thomas. Walker, who recently moved in from Las Vegas, fills those shoes with power and speed. He ran for more than 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns last season at Mohave in Nevada.

No. 5 Israel Benjamin, Scottsdale Saguaro, 5-9, 190, Jr.

He has transformed his body during the off-season, becoming much stronger and faster, according to coach Jason Mohns. Understands the offense after transferring in last summer from Brophy Prep. Very good coming out of the backfield to catch passes. Watch for a big season from one of the best students in the classroom.

No. 6 Jakim McKinney, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, 5-8, 170, Sr.

Fast, elusive, great cutback moves, he ran for 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. Averaged nine yards a carry. Great at catching the ball. A threat to score every time he touches the ball with his breakaway speed.

No. 7 Juwuan Price, Peoria, 5-10, 180, Sr.

Electric player who runs under 11 seconds electronic in 100 meters. Ran for more than 1,600 yards, averaging nine yards a carry, during a breakout junior season. He also is a threat to take it back on kickoffs, averaging 40 yards a return in ’17. He scored more than 20 touchdowns for the Panthers.

No. 8 Ali Mohammad, Glendale Apollo, 5-10, 180

Mohammad should be even better after he ran for 1,530 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Quick, fast, elusive, he has gotten stronger in the weight room without losing speed and agility.

No. 9 Deonce Elliott, Mesa Red Mountain, 5-10, 180, Jr.

Red Mountain found  an answer to its run game with Elliott recently transferring from Mesa Desert Ridge. But he may have to sit out the first five games because of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s transfer rules. To have this speedy athlete for the second half of the season should help the Lions in their push for the 6A playoffs.

No. 10  Marqui Johnson, Saguaro, 5-8, 160, Sr.

A recent transfer from Chaparral, Johnson will likely sit the first five games with the move. But he’ll probably play nine games with the Sabercats again the favorite to win 4A. He is lightning, great in space, has moves that make it tough to get a good hit on him.

Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, Jakim McKinney, Nick Wallerstedt, and Anthony Dedrick named in Arizona’s Top High School Football 2019 Recruits

, azcentral sportsPublished 4:48 p.m. MT March 16, 2018 | Updated 5:05 p.m. MT May 22, 2018

Arizona high school football recruiting: Top recruits in 2019 class

Major colleges are going to be coming through Arizona in May to see all the talent. There’s a lot and it just keeps growing. The 2019 class is as deep and talented as any that has come through in the past 10 years.

This is the azcentral sports’ Big 150, and each week, we’ll add 10 names to the list.

Editor’s note: Richard Obert ranked the Top 100 high school football prospects in Arizona before last year, but this is a new list for the 2018 season.

 

No. 12 Lacarea Pleasant Johnson, Mountain Pointe, DB, 6-2, 180

His recruiting ramped up in the spring with offers from Colorado, Florida, Iowa State, Missouri NAU. It’s a matter of time before ASU and Arizona offer. He is fast with great range and top-notch ball skills. Great athlete. Plays receiver on offense. He had 20 tackles and an interception last season.

No. 56 Jakim McKinney, Mountain Pointe, RB, 5-7, 160

Ran for 1,300 yards last season, showing great burst and change-of-speed moves that had tacklers grasping at air in 6A.

No. 57 Nick Wallerstedt, Mountain Pointe, QB/Athlete, 6-3, 185

A great multi-sport athlete in football and baseball. He started several games his sophomore year, then became the full-time starter last season when he passed for close to 1,600 yards and ran for 711 yards.

No. 101 Anthony Dedrick, Mountain Pointe, TE/DE, 6-4, 235

He played in just six games last season, totally 13 tackles. But he has made dramatic steps in his recruiting with offers from South Dakota State, San Diego State and New Mexico State since May 7.

MP adds Conrad Hamilton as defensive coordinator and Ross Crow as offensive coordinator.

Mountain Pointe adds ex-head coaches Conrad Hamilton, Ross Crow as coordinators

, azcentral sportsPublished 11:07 a.m. MT March 28, 2018

Phoenix Mountain Pointe continues to make moves beyond the Norris Vaughan era with new head coach Rich Wellbrock adding Conrad Hamilton as his defensive coordinator and Ross Crow as offensive coordinator.

Both men were ran high school programs in the Valley.

Hamilton was head coach at both Phoenix North Canyon and Scottsdale Chaparral. He was defensive coordinator on two of Chaparral’s state championship teams during the Charlie Ragle era.

Crow led Avondale Agua Fria’s program the last two years. Before that, Crow was head coach at Phoenix Sierra Linda.

“I’m just excited for our kids, to get to be coached by a staff that both Ross and Conrad has helped me put together,” Wellbrock said of the coaching additions. “I know the community is really excited.”

Wellbrock said that Hamilton is bringing his defensive coaches from Chaparral with him.

Crow also is bringing help, according to Wellbrock.

“I’ve kind of given him and Ross a little leeway hiring their own guys,” Wellbrock said. “At this level, you’ve got to have guys you can trust.”

Pride stocked with talent once again

Mountain Pointe again figures to have one of the best teams in the state with the return of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, running back Jakim McKinney and offensive lineman Deandre Henry. Mountain Pointe also has one of the top defensive backs in the West in Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson.

Crow was offensive coordinator at Surprise Shadow Ridge before he became head coach at Sierra Linda, where he was 7-13 in two seasons. His Agua Fria teams went 2-8 and 1-9.

Hamilton teaches at Chaparral, but the Firebirds went out of state for their next head coach, hiring offensive-minded Brent Barnes, who had a successful run at Norman (Okla.) North, where he was 26-9 in three years.

Nine of Hamilton’s 10 years coaching high school football in the Valley was spent at Chaparral. He was head coach at North Canyon for one season, before returning to Chaparral. He was the DC at Chaparral on two of the state title teams while Chaparral strung together three championships in a row from 2009-11.

Hamilton left Chaparral as head coach in 2016 to join Todd Graham’s staff at Arizona State as a defensive analyst. He returned to Chaparral last year back in his role as defensive coordinator under Thomas Lewis.

Hamilton is a fiery coach, just like Wellbrock.

How will that mix on the sideline?

“When we’re fired up, we’ll keep an arm’s distance,” Wellbrock said. “We want the best for the kids.

“After we talked, we figured out it was a good union. I’m excited.”

Wellbrock, who was 2-8 in his only season leading Chandler Basha in 2017, says this will be much like his days at Goodyear Desert Edge, where he delegated to coordinators. The Scorpions had a big run under Wellbrook, leading to a state championship in 2015.

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.