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 ]

Wellbrock hired at Mountain Pointe -   Haley StesiakPosted January 23, 2018 at 11:23 am Rich Wellbrock has... [ read more ]

Phoenix Mountain Pointe hires Rich Wellbrock as next football coach - Rich Wellbrock, hired at Mountain Pointe, coached at Basha for one season... [ read more ]

Rich Wellbrock poised to become new Pride football coach - Rich Wellbrock selected as new Mountain Point High head football coach... [ read more ]

Kenny Churchwell holds up four fingers as he sports a UCLA hat on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018 at Mountain Pointe High School. (Photo: Richard Obert/azcentral sports)

Mountain Pointe safety Kenny Churchwell feints toward ASU football, picks UCLA

, azcentral sportsPublished 8:55 a.m. MT Jan. 26, 2018 | Updated 9:42 a.m. MT Jan. 26, 2018

Mountain Pointe safety Kenny Churchwell, playing the ‘eeny, meeny, miny, mo’ game Friday, initially picked up an Arizona State hat.

He started to put it on as friends and family in the room started to applaud.

But then his mother grabbed his arms to stop him. He put the ASU hat back down and grabbed the UCLA hat as students screamed and swarmed him.

Churchwell, picking among UCLA, ASU and Arizona, announced during an early-morning news conference in the Mountain Pointe High School gym lobby that he will play college football for the Bruins.

UCLA didn’t offer him until two months ago but he always thought of himself playing at a major university in California. The All-Arizona senior took his official visit there last weekend. 

“UCLA is a great school,” Churchwell said. “Everybody dreams of going to California.

“I always wanted to either to go to USC or UCLA. I grew up watching them. They’re big on education. I love the opportunity there.”

Churchwell, who teamed up in Mountain Pointe’s secondary with current USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao during the Pride’s 2016 runs to the 6A final, will now be a football rival with his good friend in the Pac-12.

“He asked me a couple of days ago, ‘Where are you going?’ ” Churchwell saiid. “I said, ‘Wait until Friday.’ Everybody had been asking me. I told (Pola-Mao) either we’ll play together or we’ll play against each other.”

But USC wasn’t among the three hats in front of him at a table on Friday. It was Arizona, ASU and UCLA. All three schools have new coaches.

It looked like it was ASU when Churchwell picked up the hat.

But he told the students to hold back before rushing him, then put the cap down and put on the UCLA hat, as more screams of joy erupted.

He embraced his father, Kenny Jr., in an emotional hug, filled with tears.

Churchwell said he was leaning towards ASU at one point.

“Coach (Herm) Edwards is a big-time coach,” Churchwell said about ASU. “But when UA picked (Kevin) Sumlin, that also is a big-time coach. So it was hard to decide. But it’s Chip Kelly (new UCLA coach) all the way.”

Churchwell texted former Mountain Pointe offensive lineman Kenny Lacy, who plays at UCLA, asking him if he thought he would get a UCLA offer.

“He said, ‘Look at you, you’re going to get one,’ ” Churchwell said. “I thought it was just UA offer, an ASU offer, and be a home-town hero. But the opportunity to get a Cal-Berkeley offer, a UCLA offer, Washington State, Boise State, those are big-time schools.”

Even though Churchwell hadn’t yet to receive the UCLA offer, he posted on Twitter in early November that the Bruins were in his top five.

“I had to say I’m open for anything,” he said. “UCLA came and I’m truly blessed with it.” 

 

Arizona Safety Kenny Churchwell is a Bruin

UCLA gets a commitment from hard-hitting, three-star Arizona safety prospect, Kenny Churchwell…

 
Kenny Churchwell (Photo: ArizonaVarsity.com)

 

Kenny Churchwell, the three-star safety prospect from Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe, announced at his high school Friday morning that he had committed to UCLA.

Churchwell chose the Bruins over his other two finalists, in-state Arizona and Arizona State. 

Churchwell keeps UCLA’s streak this week alive, his commitment following those of receiver Delon Hurt and linebacker/safety Je’Vari Anderson

Churchwell is UCLA’s third defensive back commitments for 2018 — joining four-star safety Stephan Blaylock from Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco and three-star cornerback Patrick Jolly, of Lithia (Fla.) Newsome. 

It’s UCLA’s 16th commitment overall for 2018.  The Bruins could end up signing a total of around 24 by National Signing Day on Feb. 7th.  

 

Rich Wellbrock has officially been named as the new head coach at Mountain Pointe.

The hire comes after former Pride head coach Norris Vaughan resigned in mid-December after nine seasons. Vaughan led Mountain Pointe to three state championship appearances, one of which resulted in the title in 2013.

“It’s a unique opportunity because of the area and what Coach Vaughan has been able to build,” Wellbrock told Sports360AZ. “From an outsider’s view it’s right place right time. I’m very excited and happy to be leading that program.”

Wellbrock comes to the Pride after spending one season as head coach at Basha. Before Basha he spent seven seasons at Desert Edge where he led the Scorpions to a 74-16 record and a state title in 2014.

Mountain Pointe is a run-based program known for having solid lineman. The Pride’s style of play is one that Wellbrock is familiar with from his tenure at Desert Edge.

“It’s hard-nosed running football,” Wellbrock said. “The pieces that they’ve had and the history of the lineman and how well coached they’ve been, it’s a fit for me and my style of coaching.”

Wellbrock became familiar with 6A during the 2017 season at Basha.

“Every week is a dog fight,” Wellbrock said. “There’s no easy opponent each week and the coaching is so good. It’s all about the preparation you put in for the 48 minutes each week.”

As for the difference between coaching in 4A to coaching in 6A, Wellbrock said the biggest difference is the depth of players the schools have.

“You have to have kids ready to go,” Wellbrock said. “I think the biggest thing between the conferences are the (first teams) are pretty good in each conference.” 

The biggest thing that Wellbrock said he will take away from his year with the Bears is “stick to your vision.”

“What you know, what you’ve learned, from my experiences, as well as my mentor, sometimes you go astray from that,” Wellbrock said. “It’s that grind though, it’s that jumping up and making sure the kids are prepared after a tough loss.”

Former York High football coach Eric Lauer got an up-close look at Penn State’s football operation before the Fiesta Bowl. And he came away impressed over the other teams he’s seen over the years. Here, he poses with the bowl mascot, Spirit.

What makes Penn State football different? The secret’s in the practice details

, fbodani@ydr.comPublished 1:00 p.m. ET Jan. 1, 2018 | Updated 9:49 a.m. ET Jan. 2, 2018

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At the end of the final practices of the season, the Nittany Lion coaches pushed their running backs and receivers through a well-worn, mundane drill one last time

They were trying to make them fumble then, so they wouldn’t during the game.

It was a simple and yet powerful message to the players.

It also was one to a former York High football coach who was watching every moment of that workout last week leading up to the Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington. Eric Lauer, a former Bearcat player and then head coach, was talking about the behind-the-scenes secrets to Penn State’s success.

The bowl season is one of the best times for coaches like Lauer, who has lived around Phoenix for the past decade.

He’s now the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach here at powerhouse Mountain Pointe High. Each December he and the other prep coaches in the areaattend team practices leading up to the Fiesta and Cactus bowls.

 

They get to meet the college staffs and observe and learn.

It’s all about developing relationships and helping improve their own systems.

And Lauer said he was a bit surprised at James Franklin’s operation. He said it was the most efficient and well-organized of any school in the seven or eight years he’s been watching teams come to town.

 

He said the difference was in the little things, the details. No wasted minutes. The never-stop, upbeat body language. And the willingness to continue drilling well-worn fundamentals at the end of the season when time is precious.

Like that ball security drill, something Lauer doesn’t remember other schools working on like that during bowl week. 

The Nittany Lions, by the way, set a school record by losing only three fumbles all season. They fumbled only eight times overall, though two did come in the Fiesta Bowl after not playing for a month.

The Penn State Nittany Lions are reaching out to the Scottsdale community during Fiesta Bowl week. And they’re doing it with kickball. Selected players had fun Wednesday with local kids with cancer and other serious illnesses. Frank Bodani

Saquon Barley, for example, did not fumble over his final 21 games, covering 377 carries.

The Lions also were one of the least-penalized teams in the nation.

More: Penn State’s problem-solving earns high marks in Fiesta Bowl victory

“It’s something you kind of think as a coach, ‘Let’s spend time doing something else.’ But they’re doing to do it because of how important it is.

“Sometimes we blame the kids (for mistakes in games), but are you really coaching up what you want to see on the field? If you don’t want the ball on the ground you’ve got to practice that.

“It was just the attention to the small stuff and everybody being hooked up and locked in to what was supposed to happen. You could see it and you could smell it.”  

 

Lauer said he had no previous connection to Penn State beyond watching the program on TV while growing up or through former teammates and friends who went there. He had never met Penn State coaches, never attended their football camps.

He knows other staffs better, like the Washington Huskies and USC Trojans, because they recruit Phoenix regularly.

He was impressed with Penn State’s urgency and enthusiasm — things missing at times from other teams. He said the continual positive energy Franklin and his assistants show their players during practice and before the Fiesta Bowl can resonate much deeper than most realize.

 

Lauer said he saw the reinforcement throughout, from hugs and handshakes and pats on the back. There were one-on-one teaching moments. There was yelling and whistle-blowing but no cursing.

Every staff member was “up on his toes, bouncing … running the entire practice,” Lauer said.

“You could tell these were things they were doing for a while. This wasn’t a show.”

He said it was almost as if the players were searching out those interactions.

“It was like, ‘It’s game time, I get my hug.’ It’s coaching from love, not coaching from fear. And when I get that I’m going to just play that much harder for you.

“When you’re coaching in love, in accountable love, there’s nothing greater.” 

 

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: 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.

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      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.