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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.

New Mountain Pointe football coach Rich Wellbrock directs the Pride during a 7-on-7 tournament at Arizona State on June 8. 

Rich Wellbrock leads new era of Pride football

 

Rich Wellbrock understands that he is following a football coaching legend at Mountain Pointe High.

“This is on Mount Rushmore, as far as programs go,” Wellbrock said during a break from his first summer of drills as coach of the Pride.

“Everybody looks from the outside and sees Mountain Pointe as one of the top programs in the state and nationally.”

If Mountain Pointe is on the Mount Rushmore of high school football, the man Wellbrock follows could be there, too. Norris Vaughan’s teams built a dynasty during his nine years as Pride coach, going 99-19 before resigning in December and moving to Georgia to be closer to family.

Three weeks ago, Vaughan was named offensive coordinator at Athens Clarke Central High.

“When you get to a program like this, you already know the expectations. It’s exciting and that’s what we’ve all signed up for. We all came to this program to be part of the conversation,” Wellbrock said.

That conversation involves teams contending for a state championship, which has become tradition at Mountain Pointe. Vaughan’s teams appeared in the title game three times and won the state title in 2013. They reached the final four – the big-school state semifinals – in eight of his nine years.

While Wellbrock said his relationship with Vaughan was purely professional, he doesn’t hide his admiration for him.

“He’s built such a tradition here,” Wellbrock said. “They play hard-nosed football and obviously he has moved this program into another stratosphere.”

Not every coach is up for following an act like that, yet former Mountain Pointe principal Bruce Kipper, who recently moved into Temppe Union High School District’s athletic director position, fielded applications from dozens of coaches with winning pedigrees who wanted to give it a try.

Not all of them were right for the circumstances at Mountain Pointe, Kipper said.

Because Wellbrock had a long run of success on a campus similar to Mountain Pointe’s – Desert Edge in Goodyear – Kipper said that Wellbrock was the best fit for the Pride.

It was an opportunity Wellbrock couldn’t pass up. He, too, saw the parallels: kids with character, work ethic and chips on their shoulders to succeed in an elite program.

Kipper said at the time that he regarded last season as an anomaly on Wellbrock’s resume.

In one year as coach at Basha, the Bears were a disappointing 2-8. That flew in the face of Wellbrock’s tenure at Desert Edge, where his teams won 75 games in seven years, including a state title in 2014.

Wellbrock has a talented roster to uphold Mountain Pointe’s legacy. He expects big things from Jatu Gipson, Anthony Dedrick, Rashion Hodge and Jerrick Dickson.

He also is complimentary of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, the returning starter, although Wellbrock has yet to publicly announce a starter.

“It took him a little bit to get that throwing motion changed,” he said of Wallerstedt, who also starred on the baseball diamond for the Pride. “He’s had a really good summer and he’s excited about the offensive changes we’re making. What a great kid.”

The Pride faithful can expect more hard-nosed football with a few exceptions: Wellbrock hopes to open up the playbook.

“We want to make the tough runs when it’s time. That’s Mountain Pointe football. But we’re spreading it out a bit more.

“Hopefully we’ll have a little bit more diversity within the offense. We’d like to see our receivers get the ball in space,” Wellbrock said.

The Pride offense and defense will be put to the test immediately, as they open at Pinnacle on Aug. 24 against top quarterback prospect Spencer Rattler, who is headed to Oklahoma next year.

“We’re just excited to be done with this 7-on-7 stuff and really get to working on the 11-man grind,” Wellbrock said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity.”

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 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.”