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Mountain Pointe High’s LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson (left) says values instilled by his late mother helped him develop into an elite football player. The cornerback-receiver has offers from nine Division I schools, including Florida, Missouri and Nebraska. Mountain Pointe opens Aug. 24 at Pinnacle.    Zach Alvira/Tribune Sports Editor

Pride’s Pleasant-Johnson excels as loss of mother burns in his mind

The road has been rugged for Mountain Pointe High’s LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson, yet he has persevered, just as someone special to him would have wanted.

Among the gut-kicks that life deals, his greatest disappointment is that his mother did not get to see him become one of the best defensive backs in the nation.

“My mom really instilled the motivation I have in myself,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “I really do work hard for her.”

Jacquel Pleasant lost her battle with Stage 4 kidney cancer in 2011.

LaCarea was just 11 years old.

“I heard my uncle on the phone say, ‘I have to go to the hospital to see if my sister has cancer,’” Pleasant-Johnson. “I was torn.”

When Pleasant-Johnson was a child, his mom would wake him early to go for a jog, always making him stay active as he got into athletics.

She always asked how he was doing when they sat down for dinner, offering words of wisdom during times of struggle.

Those memories have stuck with Pleasant-Johnson.

“She’s my protector, my provider. She’s always on my side,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. God gives the hardest battles to his strongest warriors.

“My mom played a big role in the person I am today.”

Pleasant-Johnson is a team captain and a vocal leader of the Pride defense on the field. Those around him say his personality brings out the best out in people off the field.

“He is always in a good mood,” new Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock said. “He’s always got a big smile. He went through a lot when he was younger, but he always brings a light to every room he walks into.”

Wellbrock acknowledges that he didn’t know much about Pleasant-Johnson when he took over the program in February.

He had heard of a player getting attention from numerous college programs, but Pleasant-Johnson shocked Wellbrock with just how athletic he is.

“He’s got the DNA and is so long that he is able to get to places other athletes aren’t able to get to from a defensive back and receiver standpoint,” Wellbrock said. “His athleticism allows us to do some things on defense other teams I have had wouldn’t be able to do.”

Pleasant-Johnson, rangy at 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, will cover some of the best receivers in the state. He’ll likely be busy when Mountain Pointe opens Aug.24 at Pinnacle, with Oklahoma-bound quarterback Spencer Rattler tossing the ball.

New Pride defensive coordinator Conrad Hamilton loves the flexibility that Pleasant-Johnson gives him.

“I’ve never had a corner with his size and length,” Hamilton said. “He’s really a receiver by nature but has upside with his ability to learn the different techniques on defense.”

Pleasant-Johnson was primarily a receiver coming into Mountain Pointe. Last season, he led the Pride with 27 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns. This season, he plans to focus more on defense, but Wellbrock said that Pleasant-Johnson likely will still be in the mix on the other side of the ball, too.

“We want to make sure we have the right match ups in every game,” Wellbrock said. “One week, that might be LaCarea playing on another side of the ball and another week it could be someone else.”

Pleasant-Johnson’s ability to play on both sides has boosted his college recruitment. Rated as a three-star cornerback, he has offers from nine Division I programs, including Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa State.

Pleasant-Johnson has a top five but isn’t ready to announce it because he anticipates that more offers may come and his rating could improve as recruiters get more film of him.

The thought of playing college football is always there, but as he begins to navigate his senior season, he has two goals: Win a championship and make his mother proud.

“Not a lot of people can handle what I’ve been through,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “I am blessed. My mom really instilled the motivation I have in myself and I feel like since she passed the sky is the limit.”

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.”

No. 4 Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson,6-2, 180, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Sr. Patrick Breen/azcentral sports

, Arizona RepublicPublished 9:40 a.m. MT July 24, 2018

This is the “island” position, where nobody wants to be left behind, watching wide receivers wheeling down the sideline for touchdowns.

These are azcentral sports’ top 10 cornerbacks for the 2018 Arizona high school football season.

No. 1 Kelee Ringo, Scottsdale Saguaro, 6-2, 192, Jr.

He has a five-star ranking is the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the nation in 247Sports composite. And to think he came to Saguaro from Washington state last summer, thinking he would just play receiver.

MORE: 10 Arizona high school football players expected to break out in 2018

No. 2 Javin Wright, Chandler Hamilton, 6-3, 195, Sr.

Another long corner who can maneuver the field quickly and get in front of passes to break them up. He is bigger than his dad, Toby Wright, who ended up with a pretty good football  career at cornerback coming out of Mesa Dobson, playing  at Nebraska and in the NFL. This year, Toby will be coaching him as a position coach under head coach Mike Zdebski.

No. 3 Brandon Shivers, Saguaro, 6-1, 175, Sr.

He had major colleges all over him, before committing this summer to San Diego State. With Ringo and manning the corners, Saguaro’s secondary is off-the-charts talented.

No. 4 Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson,6-2, 180, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Sr.

He is a three-star with offers from the likes of Nebraska, Iowa State, Utah and Missouri. His speed sets him apart. He has the  length, as well, to cover big receivers. A physical, quick corner who can change the game.

NAME GAME: Top 10 Arizona high school football player names for 2018 season

No. 5 Tashumbrae “Scooter” Brown Jr., 5-9, 180, Gilbert Williams Field, Sr.

He transferred in the spring from San Marcos, Texas, where he alternated from free safety to corner and had 85 tackles and two interceptions. His versatility in the a loaded secondary will make Williams Field tough to throw against.

No. 6 Kieran Clark, Peoria Centennial, 6-0, 185, Sr.

He became a hot recruiting prospect during track when he blazed his trails with fast times. He has the skill set to make himself a major player in Centennial’s plans to repeat as 5A state champs.

No. 7 David Eppinger, Chandler, 5-11, 180, Sr.

He transferred from Gilbert Perry, which finished second to Chandler last season in  the 6A state playoffs. Eppinger started on varsity his first three years at Perry. It’s uncertain whether he will miss any of the season provided he has a hardship. But he could make a difference the second half of the season when the Wolves typically peak.

INSIDE TRACK: Top 10 linebackers for 2018 Arizona high school football

No. 8 Denzel Burke, Phoenix Brophy Prep, 5-11, 160, So.

He started on varsity as a freshman and had 25 tackles, an interceptions and two pass break-ups. He is a lot better now and will likely see a lot of time on offense at receiver.

No. 9 Shaq Daniels, Mesa Red Mountain, 6-0, 170, Sr.

He had 26 tackles and three interceptions last season. He will play another big role on a tough defense. He is quick with great ball skills  and isn’t afraid to dig in and make the hit.

No. 10 Jaiden Hayes, Phoenix South Mountain, 5-10, 175, Sr.

Hayes is a leader on and off the field and will be counted on to play an even greater role after having a solid junior season with 64 tackles and an interception. He will probably see time at running  back, so Hayes has worked hard to make this a special season.

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.

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.

Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor

Mountain Pointe punishes Hawks, gears up for semifinal

By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  

Following Mountain Pointe’s trouncing of the eighth-seeded Highland Hawks in the 6A quarterfinal at Karl Kiefer Stadium Friday night, coach Norris Vaughan spoke to his team with joy and high praise.

But one part of his postgame speech stood out more than the rest.

“It’s all about believing in one another,” Vaughan said.

And as senior two-way player Delano Salgado made his way to the middle of the huddle and raised his helmet in the air with his teammates, they yelled in unison: “Believe.”

Despite being the top seed in the 6A playoffs, Mountain Pointe approached Friday’s game with a strong sense of determination. At the same stadium just over a month ago, Highland gave the Pride a run for its money and a reason to fear its season hopes could come crashing down.  

The Hawks went into the locker room with a 13-0 halftime lead but ended up shocked in the end as Mountain Pointe flipped the switch in the second half and pulled off a dramatic 14-13 win – one that exemplified great character at that point in the season.

“First time we played (them), we turned the ball over three times inside our own 20,” Vaughan said. “We’ve gotten much better since then.”

One way Mountain Pointe has significantly improved over the course of its season has been through the passing game and its ability to open up the offense, in part because of its running game.

Junior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt has grown up before Vaughan’s eyes and he put his strong arm and accuracy to the test in the second quarter. After back-to-back first-down runs by Gary Bragg and Marshawn Gibson, Wallerstedt found Gibson wide open on a play-action pass for a 31-yard touchdown to give Mountain Pointe a 14-0 lead.

Following an impressive defensive stand, Wallerstedt was given another golden opportunity to air it out. The Pride began the ensuing drive with a few run plays and a first-down completion to Sky Hinojosa.

One play later, with the Highland secondary sleeping, Wallerstedt launched one of the more perfect passes you’ll see on a football field as Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson hauled it in for a 62-yard touchdown to give the Pride a comfortable 21-0 lead heading into halftime.

From then on, it was all Mountain Pointe.

The Pride defense showed up in full force as it shut down Highland quarterback Kaleb Herbert and the Hawks offense to the tune of just one first down in the first half.

“We’ve been playing really well the last three weeks,” Vaughan said. “Around this time of year, we always seem to come on and play better football.”

The play of the night came in the third quarter following an onside kick recovered by Highland. Herbert and the Hawks were marching down the field looking to cut the score in half following a touchdown pass to trim the lead to 28-7.

Herbert stepped back in the pocket, surveyed the secondary looking for an open receiver, scrambled out right and on a ball that appeared to be out of everyone’s reach, Gibson jumped in the air and brought down a miraculous one-handed interception to put a stop to Highland’s momentum shift.

It highlighted an outstanding defensive performance by one of the best defenses in 6A.

For Mountain Pointe, the quarterfinal win is only the beginning in what hopes to be a playoff run of redemption, following last year’s state championship loss.

“We’re definitely playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Salgado said. “Even though we’re the No. 1 team, we’re not going to play like it. We’re going to act like we’ve been here before and it’s really important to us to come back and finish this time.”

Mountain Pointe will move on to play the fourth-seeded Perry Pumas next week for a chance to return to the 6A State Championship in Tucson.

The Pumas were thought to be the top seed heading into the playoffs but were ousted by Mountain Pointe. They’re coming off a convincing 72-14 victory over No. 5 Hamilton.

“We know they have a great quarterback and a great team through the air,” Salgado said. “But on the other side, we have a great defense so we’re going to come out and play hard.”

Against Hamilton, the Perry Pumas lit up the scoreboard after the two teams battled in a shootout earlier this season with a final score of 65-63. When referring to a great quarterback and a great team through the air, Salgado was referring to quarterback Brock Purdy and receivers D’shayne James and Colby Dickie.

Before Friday’s matchup against Hamilton, Purdy had tallied over 3,000 passing yards and over 700 rushing yards on the season. Contributing to an offense that has scored 760 points this season, Dickie and James have combined for 1,755 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air this season.

But they probably haven’t seen a secondary like Mountain Pointe’s since their lone loss to Chandler earlier this year.

+1  

Marshawn Gibson, flanked by Pride teammates
Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor

Along with their potent offense, the Pumas display a strong defense that could limit the strong running game of Mountain Pointe’s Gary Bragg, Jakim McKinney and Salgado. Travis Beckman, Jobiin Sweatt and Harley Scott have been nuisances in backfields all season long, tallying a combined 24 sacks.

Unlike most of the remaining state playoff games, these two teams haven’t faced off yet this season, so they are both unfamiliar with the other. But that just means that on Friday night, these two teams will be in for an exciting matchup to see who will go to the 6A State Championship game in Tucson.

Mountain Pointe and Perry kick off at 7 p.m. on Friday at McClintock High School in Tempe.

Chandler vs. Red Mountain.

In the other 6A semifinal game, the Chandler Wolves will face off with the Red Mountain Lions. These two teams played against each other during zero week back in August and the Wolves put a beating on the Mountain Lions, winning 42-14. Since then, though, both teams have gone through a lot of adversity.

After losing their first two games of the season, Red Mountain might be the hottest team in the state, winning 10 straight games behind performances from all-around athlete Lance Lawson.

The Wolves have also gone through their own adversity as they were forced to play a slew of games without some of their key players.

Fully healthy, the Wolves look to return to the State Championship game for the second straight year.

Mountain Pointe’s Marshawn Gibson, #7, grabs what would have been a touchdown pass away from Highland’s Dayton Huffman, #2, late in the third quarter.  Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst

Mountain Pointe cruises by Highland into Semis

By Eddie Poe   |  11.11.17

For the #1 seed Mountain Pointe Pride, its quest back to the 6A State Championship begins and ends with one word.

Believe.

Following its 44-7 trouncing of the #8 seed Highland Hawks in the 6A quarterfinal at Karl Kiefer Stadium Friday night, coach Norris Vaughan spoke to his team with joy and high praise. But one part of his postgame speech stood out more than the rest.

“It’s all about believing in one another,” Vaughan said.

And as senior two-way player Delano Salgado made his way to the middle of the huddle and raised his helmet in the air with his teammates, they each yelled the same word in unison. Believe.

Despite being the top seed in the 6A playoffs, Mountain Pointe approached Friday’s game with a strong sense of determination. At Karl Kiefer Stadium just over a month ago, Highland gave the Pride a run for its money and a reason to fear its season hopes coming to a crash. 

The Hawks went into the locker room with a 13-0 halftime lead but ended up shocked in the end as Mountain Pointe turned the switch on in the second half and pulled off a dramatic 14-13 win. A win that exemplified great character at that point in the season.

“First time we played (them), we turned the ball over three times inside our own 20,” Vaughan said. “We’ve gotten much better since then.”

One way Mountain Pointe has significantly improved over the course of its season has been through the passing game and its ability to open up the offense much in part because of its running game.

Junior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt has grown up before Vaughan’s eyes and he put his strong arm and accuracy to test in the second quarter. After back-to-back first down runs by Gary Bragg and Marshawn Gibson, Wallerstedt found Gibson wide open on a play-action pass for a 31 yard touchdown to give Mountain Pointe a 14-0 lead.

Following an impressive defensive stand, Wallerstedt was given another golden opportunity to air it out. The Pride began the ensuing drive with a few run plays, and a first down completion to Sky Hinojosa. One play later, with the Highland secondary sleeping, Wallerstedt aired out one of the more perfect passes that you’ll see on a football field as Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson hauled it in for a 62 yard touchdown to give the Pride a comfortable 21-0 lead heading into halftime.

From then on, it was all Mountain Pointe.

The Pride defense showed up in full force as it shutdown Highland quarterback Kaleb Herbert and the Hawks offense to the tune of just one first down in the first half.

“We’ve been playing really well the last three weeks,” Vaughan said. “Around this time of year we always seem to come on and play better football.”

The play of the night came in the third quarter following an onside kick recovered by Highland. Herbert and the Hawks were marching down the field looking to cut the score in half following a touchdown pass to cut the lead to 28-7.

Herbert stepped back in the pocket, surveyed the secondary looking for an open receiver, scrambled out right and on a ball that appeared to be out of everyone’s reach, Gibson jumped in the air and brought down a miraculous one-handed interception to put a stop to Highland’s momentum shift.

It highlighted an outstanding defensive performance by one of the best defenses in 6A.

For Mountain Pointe, Friday night’s quarterfinal win is only the beginning in what hopes to be a playoff run of redemption following last year’s state championship loss.

“We’re definitely playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Salgado said. “Even though we’re the number one team, we’re not going to play like it. We’re going to act like we’ve been here before and it’s really important to us to come back and finish this time.”

Mountain Pointe will move on to play the #4 seed Perry Pumas next week for a chance to return to the 6A State Championship in Tucson.

The Pumas were thought to be the top seed heading into the playoffs but were ousted by Mountain Pointe. They’re coming off a convincing 72-14 victory over #5 Hamilton.

“We know they have a great quarterback and a great team through the air,” Salgado said. “But on the other side, we have a great defense so we’re going to come out and play hard.”

“Be prepared.”

 

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.

 

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.