Richard Obert, Arizona RepublicPublished 2:41 p.m. MT Oct. 2, 2018
This is a look at the top prospects football fans can see in the azcentral sports Week 8 Game of the Week.
Phoenix Desert Vista and Phoenix Mountain Pointe clash on Friday night at Mountain Pointe in the ‘Ahwatukee Bowl’.
Mountain Pointe (3-3)
Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, CB, 6-2, 180, Sr.
He has reduced his college list to Colorado, Florida and Utah. He has said that he will likely announce his college during the first day of the early signing period on Dec. 19. Pleasant-Johnson will have to watch the edges against Desert Vista, which likes to employ a power run game.
He is on the edge of getting that break-through Power 5 offer. His current offers are from New Mexico State, San Diego State and South Dakota State. Versatile athlete who could play on either side of the ball.
Only a freshman, but he looks like he could be the next great running back to come through Arizona. He was impressive in the loss to Gilbert Highland, breaking off big runs in the second half. He will only get bigger, stronger, faster. He is headed to Power 5 offers. He is averaging 15 yards on his first 13 varsity carries.
He injured his ankle while rushing for 135 yards and a TD against Highland two weeks ago and did not play last week. He has major-college potential, as well. If he can finish strong, he could have big-time Division I offers.
Watch out for: Junior wide receiver Elijah Ervin has the size (6-2, 180) and speed that college coaches like. On a run-oriented team, he leads the Thunder in receiving with 18 catches for 263 yards and four TDs.
To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.
Richard Obert, Arizona RepublicPublished 12:49 p.m. MT Aug. 21, 2018 | Updated 1:09 p.m. MT Aug. 21, 2018
There is a chance to see some future Saturday football players on Friday when No. 2 (6A) Phoenix Mountain Pointe opens its season at 1-0 and No. 1 (6A)-ranked Phoenix Pinnacle in the azcentral sports’ Game of the Week.
Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, CB, 6-2, 180, Sr.
Long, athletic, fast corner who has a 3-star composite rating by 247Sports, Pleasant-Johnson should have a busy night with Spencer Rattler throwing the ball. Pleasant-Johnson likely will find himself guarding Pinnacle’s best wide receiver. He has offers from Florida, Iowa State, Nebraska, Missouri, Oregon State, San Diego State, Utah, and Northern Arizona.
Anthony Dedrick, DL, 6-4, 230, Sr.
He is being recruited as a weak-side defensive end. Holds a 3-star rating by 247Sports. So far four offers: NAU, South Dakota State, San Diego State and New Mexico State. Putting pressure on Rattler will help him get seen by more colleges who are looking for somebody with a large frame and quickness and speed.
Jerrick Dickson, TE/DE, 6-4, 220, Sr.
His father Marcus Dickson was a big-play running back at Phoenix Maryvale in the late 1980s. Great athlete who could make an impact on offense to get on the radar with major-college coaches.
Worth watching: QB Nick Wallerstedt, a senior, has committed to Arizona State to play baseball. Coach Rich Wellbrock may unveil 6-4, 185-pound senior Ahmen Williams at QB. He is a dynamic athlete who could make a splash in front of college recruiters. .. RB Jakim McKinney isn’t very big at 5-8, 170, but he has the speed and gears that make him stand out on the field.
Seems like years ago that Rattler committed to Oklahoma. There has been no second-guessing that commitment since doing so last summer. Now after throwing for 415 yards and four TDs in last week’s opening win over Gilbert Perry, the five-star Rattler might be the most-watched high school quarterback in the nation.
If Rattler endorses you, you know college coaches are going to listen. During Pinnacle’s preseason scrimmage, Rattler called Goodlow the best running back in the state. He has a chance to be. He has the size and speed. He can run through defenders and around them. College coaches will take a close look at him in this game against what should be a fast, physical Mountain Pointe defense.
Worth watching: Senior Athlete Kaleb Covington, 5-10, 175, has speed and gears that appeal to college coaches. Coach Dana Zupke has moved him from RB to WR. He is excellent in the slot. If last week was an indication, he will be used a lot to make plays in space. He caught four passes for 147 yards and a TD. … Senior LB Amelec Juntunen, 6-0, 190, has been moved from running back. He made a big impact on defense in the first game with 14 tackles, 11 solo, and a sack.
Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson raises his right arm, then his left.
On the right bicep, it says, “Jaqu31.” On the left, it reads, “Pleasant.”
His mother’s name, Jaquel Pleasant, run deep in his heart. The tattoos were put there after he moved from Washington two years ago and began his Phoenix Mountain Pointe football career as a long, athletic cornerback who remembers his mom pulling him out of trouble as a child and giving him paths to succeed.
She steered him into football, took him to his games and cheered from the sideline until she lost her battle to lung cancer when she was 31 and Lacarea was 11.
“Having to go through that was big,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “But I tell you what, not a lot of people can go through this. But I think I was chosen at that time, just like this.”
The time is now for Pleasant-Johnson to ball out on the field. He is a senior , one of the state’s top-recruited cornerbacks, an athletic freak at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, who wears jersey No. 31 to signify the age his mom died.
He’ll take her spirit with him Friday night at Phoenix Pinnacle, where he’ll be assigned to senior quarterback Spencer Rattler’s hottest receiver, perhaps Kaleb Covington, who averaged 38 yards on four catches against Perry.
Rattler is the big name in high school football in America. He came into the season ranked as the No. 1 prostyle quarterback in the nation in the 2019 class, a five-star, who this week was among the Chosen 25 by USA Today.
“Spencer is going to make plays, but we just have to know how to bounce back,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “He’s a great quarterback. But we also have a good defensive coordinator (Conrad Hamilton) and also a head coach (Rich Wellbrock).”
It will be a chance for Wellbrock and Hamilton to bounce back after being at different places last season.
Wellbrock won just two games in his only season leading Chandler Basha after taking Goodyear Desert Edge to two state finals, and winning a championship, during his West-side run.
Hamilton was defensive coordinator at Scottsdale Chaparral last year and appeared to be in the hunt to return as head coach, a position he once held there, before the Firebirds went out of state to hire Brent Barnes.
Mountain Pointe was left in great condition by Norris Vaughan, who resigned to return home to Georgia. The program under Vaughan’s watch has always been filled with tough, fast, physical athletes.
“The biggest thing is numbers and length,” Wellbrock said about comparing the athletes at Mountain Pointe to his time at Desert Edge. “This is the longest football team I’ve ever coached. Just from our DB and wide receiver and linebacker positions, our length is phenomenal. And we’ve got a lot of growth to make.
“What we see Friday night won’t be what we see when we move into October.”
Mountain Pointe has never lost to Rattler, who is in his fourth year as the varsity starting quarterback at Pinnacle.
Wellbrock embraces the pressure that comes with keeping up Vaughan did to make the Pride a powerhouse.
“We all know what we signed up for,” Wellbrock said. “When these kids come to Mountain Pointe, they know that type of pressure, that they’re going to be under the spotlight.”
Pleasant-Johnson is an engaging athlete, fun-loving, smiling, outgoing, driven — things his mom left him. His grandmother, he said, stepped up in his life after Jaquel died. His father, he said, lives in Seattle.
“Just the competitive drive, she left that with me,” he said. “Getting up at five in the morning to do a job. I play for her. She plays a significant part in my life.
“She was my confidence when I was a little kid. It could get ugly at times, but you have to stay strong.”
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
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]
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Obert, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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 email@example.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.
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.
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.
Richard Obert, 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.
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.
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.
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