Game of the Week: Top prospects in the Mountain Pointe-Desert Vista game - Richard Obert, Arizona RepublicPublished 2:41 p.m. MT Oct. 2, 2018 Game of... [ read more ]

Mountain Pointe hands Highland first loss of season - Mountain Pointe High handed Highland High its first loss of the season on... [ read more ]

Mountain Pointe deals Highland first loss - Mountain Pointe’s Jakim McKinney prepares to squeeze through a hole... [ read more ]

Mountain Pointe safety Kenny Churchwell feints toward ASU football, picks UCLA - Kenny Churchwell holds up four fingers as he sports a UCLA hat on Friday,... [ read more ]

Arizona Safety Kenny Churchwell is a Bruin - Arizona Safety Kenny Churchwell is a Bruin UCLA gets a commitment from... [ read more ]

Kenny Churchwell Commits To UCLA - Kenny Churchwell announced his commitment to UCLA on Friday morning. Kenny... [ read more ]

Mountain Pointe defense is fast and punishing led by CB Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson Richard Obert, azcentral sports

Mountain Pointe DB Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson driven by mom’s spirit

, Arizona RepublicPublished 7:00 a.m. MT Aug. 23, 2018 | Updated 3:29 p.m. MT Aug. 23, 2018

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

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.”

Arizona’s loss is Georgia’s gain as Vaughan leaves as one of the sports’ greatest ambassadors and leaders.

Coach Norris Vaughan leaves great legacy at Mountain Pointe

Posted: Dec 22, 2017 5:58 PM MSTUpdated: Dec 22, 2017 5:58 PM MST

Mountain Pointe Mafia support crew: from left Alan Tripp, Mark Blom, Ellen and Norris Vaughan, Lee Shappell, and George Shook

 

 

By Lee Shappell  |  Former Treasurer and Program Editor, MPHS Football Booster Club

December 18, 2017

 

Nine years ago tonight, Mountain Pointe was coming off a two-win season, and some of us were wondering if the school was ever going to give thought to elevating football to a varsity sport.

 

The Pride was looking for a new coach, and at that time it wasn’t exactly a plum job. So when they hired some guy from Wickenburg – Wickenburg! That’s a couple of divisions lower!” It wasn’t a surprise, but not many were excited about the choice, either.

 

If somebody had told us then that over the next nine years we’d have nine winning seasons, go 8-1 against our rival and reclaim the series lead, make eight state semifinal playoff appearances, three championship games, win a state title and finish among the top five in the country, we’d have taken it on the spot right then. 

 

Nobody would have believed it, yet that’s where we are tonight as we say goodbye to Coach Norris Vaughan and his much, much better half, Ellen.

 

In his first year, the Pride went 10-0 and advanced to the semifinals, falling two yards short of a TD that would have put them in the title game. It was an incredible turnaround, and it was only the beginning.

 

Now, Coach Vaughan is not for everyone. He does it his way, and you’re going to do it his way, or you can go play soccer. Some parents didn’t like him. Some players didn’t like him. And I can say unequivocally that none of the referees liked him.

But he IS for anyone who wants to win and is willing to work hard to reach a goal. 

 

In announcing Coach Vaughan’s resignation last week, the school principal was quoted as saying that Coach Vaughan not only turned around a football program, he changed the culture at Mountain Pointe. At a school where more than 60 percent of the student body comes from outside the attendance boundaries through open enrollment, from places like Maricopa, Laveen and south Phoenix, I believe this to be true.

 

The football team’s success seemed to say to everyone on campus that no matter who you are, or where you’re from, or what you have or don’t have, if you set a goal and are committed to being successful, you can do it.

 

I find all of that to my liking, so it was my great pleasure to play a small role peripherally in supporting the program. More than that, I made two new friends. I could sit and listen to Norris talk for hours, and have. And if there is a nicer, more genuine human being than Ellen, I’ve yet to meet her.

 

The Pride went 99-19 under Coach Vaughan. Add 47-5 in four seasons at Wickenburg and he is the winningest high school football coach in Arizona over those 13 years. That covers a lot of coaches at a lot of elite programs.

 

It was hard to say goodbye tonight at the sendoff for Norris and Ellen. They are on their way to Georgia on Wednesday, moving back home to be near their grandkids. 

 

It could be a sad time, but I’d rather focus on all the great memories from nine years and be grateful for them. I have a smile rather than a tear.

 

I thank them both and wish them good health and much happiness.

 

And on his way out of town, I hope Norris puts a yellow hanky in an envelope and mails it to the AIA.

 

Mountain Pointe’s Head Coach Norris Vaughan  (Photo: David Kadlubowski/ azcentral)

Norris Vaughan resigns after leading Mountain Pointe through greatest football era

, azcentral sports  |  Published 1:23 p.m. MT Dec. 13, 2017 | Updated 3:22 p.m. MT Dec. 13, 2017

Norris Vaughan, who led Phoenix Mountain Pointe through its greatest football era, has resigned as head coach.

Mountain Pointe Principal Bruce Kipper said he was informed Wednesday morning by Vaughan that he and his wife are returning to Georgia to be closer to family.

“As of now, he has no plans to coach, but he has a lot of years left in him,” Kipper said. “I want to thank Coach Vaughan for nine great years. Not only has he built a championship caliber football program, but he has also helped transform our school culture. He has had a tremendous impact on all of us. As far as I am concerned, he will always be a member of the Pride.”

In eight of his nine seasons leading the Pride, Vaughan guided Mountain Pointe to no worse than the semifinals in the state’s biggest division, reaching the final game three times, and going 14-0, capturing the school’s only state football championship in 2013, when it finished ranked among the top five teams in the country.

In Vaughan’s last six years, Mountain Pointe had one of the state’s best runs, going 71-10 and reaching the final three times.

Vaughan, 70, moved from Georgia in 2004, after 20 years as a high school coach, believing he was heading into retirement, playing in pro-am golf tournaments.

But after he helped out as an assistant football coach at a school in the Valley, Vaughan took the Wickenburg job in 2005. He lost only five games in four seasons, compiling 47 wins, playing at the 3A level.

Vaughan said he and his wife are moving to an area north of Atlanta.

“I’m not going to use the ‘R’ word,” Vaughan said. “I’m not retiring. I’m in conversations with other schools in Georgia. I’m still a young man.”

Vaughan leaves Mountain Pointe well-stocked. Although the defense will need some rebuilding, Mountain Pointe returns nine starters on offense from a team that lost to Gilbert Perry in the 6A semifinals.

Mountain Pointe is the third major high school football coaching job in the Valley that has opened since the end of the season. Scooter Molander resigned at Phoenix Brophy Prep and Dick Banisziewski served only the one season as interim coach at Chandler Hamilton.

Norris Vaughan era at Mountain Pointe

2017: 10-3, lost to Gilbert Perry in semifinals

2016: 13-1, lost to Chandler in final

2015: 12-1, lost to Peoria Centennial in semifinals

2014: 10-3, lost to Chandler in semifinals

2013: 14-0, beat Chandler Hamilton in final

2012: 12-2, lost to Hamilton in final

2011: 6-5, lost to Phoenix Brophy Prep in first round

2010: 10-3, lost to Hamilton in semifinals

2009: 12-1, lost to Mesa in semifinal

 

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 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.”

       

      Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor

      Mountain Pointe again enters playoffs as top seed

      By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  Nov 2, 2017

      For the third time in five years, head coach Norris Vaughan and the Mountain Pointe High School football team will enter the state tournament as the No. 1 seed.

      It may have come as a surprise to some, as Desert Ridge, the only in-state team that handed Mountain Pointe a loss this season, received the No. 2 seed. But, the Pride have proved themselves time and time again as one of the best teams in Arizona.

      Junior kicker Ben Abercrombie drilled a 31-yard field goal as time expired to deliver another win for the Pride Friday and secure their 8-2 regular season record. Now, the Pride will look to No. 16-seed Cibola (5-5) on Friday at Karl Kiefer stadium.

      The Raiders enter the 6A State Tournament high off a big 28-15 win over Tucson High Magnet School, capturing a piece of the 6A Southern Region and an automatic bid into the state playoffs.

      As the Raiders were ranked at No. 21 in the final AZPreps365 rankings of the season, capturing the region championship knocked bubble teams like No. 15-ranked Desert Vista and No. 16-ranked Gilbert out of the playoff picture.

      The Raiders, led by longtime head coach Lucky Arvizo, are riding a three-game winning streak heading into their first-round matchup. While the Raiders sport a record of 5-5, they have won four of those games on the road as they head to Ahwatukee on Friday  

      Offensively for the Raiders, it has been a heavy dose of Jesse Escott all season long. The senior running back has carried the ball 194 times for 1,071 yards and 14 touchdowns.

      But the 5-foot-7, 200-pound back has played in only seven games this season and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in every game. He has scored at least one touchdown in every game but one, a 28-25 loss to Valley Vista.

      The Raiders are led by an Arvizo on the sideline and under center, as junior quarterback Ethan Arvizo holds the reins on the offensive side. He’s completed 104 passes for 1,488 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He’s also only thrown five interceptions in 2017 and two of those came in a 41-0 blowout loss to Southwest EC at the beginning of the season.

      The junior gunslinger has spread the ball around this season with 13 different Raiders catching passes, but nearly half of his completions have gone to Gabriel Ramirez. The junior receiver has caught 50 passes for 939 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017.

      The only other Raider with over 200 yards receiving is sophomore Zeke Rios, who has caught 16 passes for 232 yards.

      The Raiders’ three offensive weapons will run into one of the strongest defenses that they will have faced.

      While Arvizo will have to throw into a secondary that has picked off 17 passes and deflected 69 more this season, Escott will run into a defensive line that limited Chandler running backs Drake Anderson and DeCarlos Brooks to 114 yards on Sept. 8.

      Defensive linemen Shomari Hayes and Kenneth Lofton have combined for 15 sacks this season and were recently joined by junior lineman Matthew Pola-Mao, who returned from an injury Friday night to make his first appearance of the season.

      In the secondary, Ramirez will have to find a way to deal Delano Salgado, Marshawn Gibson and Kenny Churchwell to have any impact on the game.

      All season long the Pride have relied on their running back tandem of senior Gary Bragg and junior Jakim McKinney, who have combined for 1,858 yards and 22 touchdowns.

      But recently, junior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt has solidified himself as a solid throwing quarterback, passing for a combined 276 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games.

      The Mountain Pointe offense will run into a strong grouping of linebackers from Cibola. Senior Sebastian Torres leads the group, and the team, with 96 tackles in 2017 and is averaging 10.7 tackles per game. He’s also caused a fumble and recovered two more.

      Along with Torres, junior Elijah Contreras and senior Jacob Mcghee have been big for the No. 16 seed. Contreras has tallied 89 tackles on the season, leads the Raiders in sacks, and has caused two fumbles.

      Mcghee has only racked up 25 tackles on the season but has picked off two passes and has forced four fumbles. These three, along with defensive tackle Damian Magdaleno, will look to contain the Mountain Pointe offense and try to upset the No. 1 team in 6A.

      If the Pride can stay disciplined on both sides of the ball and avoid major penalties – something the team didn’t do a lot in its season finale against Gilbert last Friday – look for the No. 1 seed to race into the second round and face the winner of No. 8 Highland vs. No. 9 Desert Mountain.

      Mountain Pointe hosts this Friday’s playoff game at 7 p.m.

      Around the rest of 6A, Desert Ridge will face off with No. 15-seed Westview. Chandler, Perry and Hamilton were given the three, four and five seeds and will match up with Mesa Mountain View, Boulder Creek and Skyline, respectively.

      In 5A, the defending state champion Williams Field drew the No. 7-seed after upsetting previously undefeated Queen Creek on Friday. The Blackhawks will face-off with No. 10-seeded Chaparral.

      The Firebirds handed the Blackhawks their last loss of the season on September 15. Since then, the defending state champions have snapped off five straight wins, including a 28-27 last-minute win over No. 14-seed Campo Verde.

      In the 4A conference, the Higley Knights received the No. 3-seed and Seton Catholic received the No. 6 seed, which could set up another rematch of their season finale matchup from Friday, in the second round.

      Marcos de Niza earned the No. 9 seed and a matchup with No. 8 Cactus Shadows.

      While 6A, 5A and 4A conferences will play on Friday night, the 3A and 2A games will take place on Saturday.

      In the 3A conference, Casteel will look to continue their undefeated season after receiving the No. 3 seed and a matchup with No. 14-seed Empire. No. 2-seeded American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek, which lost its only game of the season in week two against No. 1-seed Pusch Ridge, will face off with Ganado in the first round as they seem to be on a collision course with the Colts.

      Finally, in the 2A conference, three East Valley teams remain and two of them will face off in the first round, as No. 7-seed Gilbert Christian will take on No. 10-seed Tempe Prep. The No. 11-seeded San Tan Foothills squad will have the opportunity to host a first-round game after capturing the 2A Metro East regional title with an overall record of 8-2. The Sabercats will host No. 6-seeded St. Johns on Saturday at 6 p.m.

       

      Congratulations Shomari Hayes for being invited to play in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl.  Pictured with Coach Norris Vaughan.