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Mountain Pointe enters the 6A playoffs as the No. 8 seed with a 6-4 record.   

6A playoff preview: No. 9 Brophy at No. 8 Mountain Pointe

Updated 

Mountain Pointe

The Pride played the second-toughest schedule of any team in Arizona, according to the AIA. Mountain Pointe ends the regular season 6-4, having lost three games by a touchdown or less.

Mountain Pointe’s defense has talented players at all levels, and the Pride have not allowed more than 27 points since an opening-game loss at Pinnacle. Senior receiver Rashion Hodge leads all tacklers with 82.

On offense, the Pride run the ball frequently behind a large offensive line. Mountain Pointe has developed somewhat of a three-headed rushing attack with senior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, senior running back Jakim McKinney and sophomore running back Eli Sanders. All three are fast and can shake off potential tacklers. Play action opens one-on-one match-ups for the Pride’s quick receivers down the field as well.

Through seven weeks, the Pride were 3-4 but turned the season around by winning three in a row.

“We’re really just happy to be on this three-game win-streak,” coach Rich Wellbrock said. “We’ve had some good second halves, now if we can play like that in the first half we’ll be good to go.”

Brophy Prep

The Broncos bounced back from a 1-9 2017 season to 7-3 this year, under first-year head coach Jon Kitna. Brophy lost two of its final three games in road matches against heavyweights Chandler and Perry in respective weeks. But, the Broncos pulled out a season-ending home win against playoff-bound Basha on senior night.

Brophy is led by its defense, which has allowed just a touchdown or less in six of its ten games this year. The Broncos’ leading tackler is senior Sully Shannon (86) and Will Broucek has added 81 and a team-high seven sacks.

While the defense has been stout, Brophy’s offense has struggled to move the ball at times. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Kitna has 1,431 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air, but has also thrown 15 interceptions. Senior Marques White is Brophy’s leading rusher, with just 420 yards and two scores on the ground.

Mountain Pointe running back Jakim McKinney breaks away from Hamilton’s defense for a long touchdown run in high school football Friday night in Ahwatukee. McKinney and Eli Sanders did most of the damage as the Pride rushed for 416 yards in a 55-20 rout.  

Mountain Pointe rolls past Hamilton

With a short week of preparation and the memory of a bitter loss to the nation’s No. 15 team lingering, Mountain Pointe shook it off, unleashed its speedy rushing game and ran past Hamilton, 55-20, in high school football Friday night in Ahwatukee.

Mountain Pointe rolled to 416 rushing yards and 643 yards total offense against a program not far removed from its days as Arizona’s big-school dynasty.

But the Huskies were overmatched from the outset, as Pride running backs Jakim McKinney, a senior, and Eli Sanders, a sophomore, blasted through Hamilton’s front seven into the second level and raced away.

Meanwhile, the Pride’s blitzing, aggressive defense smothered Hamilton’s rushing game and consistently was in the face of Hamilton passers, making sacks or forcing hurried throws. Pride linebacker Rashion Hodge was a menace to the Huskies.

Last Saturday, the Pride was on the doorstep of upsetting 15th-ranked South Jordan (Utah) Bingham in Henderson, Nev., but inside the Bingham 5-yard line in the closing 2 minutes, Mountain Pointe’s fourth-down pass was deflected at the goal line.

There was no apparent hangover. Mountain Pointe struck quickly, manhandling the Huskies up front to open holes for McKinney and Sanders.

That, in turn, set up quarterback Nick Wallerstedt in the play-action and short passing game. The Pride also continued to take shots down the field and had receivers open deep most of the evening, but Wallerstedt overthrew several long balls.

The score reached 41-3 and the Pride threatened to put the game into running time before Hamilton regrouped and scored two late touchdowns, one of the drives set up by a recovered onside kick.

Mountain Pointe (2-2) plays host to Queen Creek (4-1), up this year to 6A, next Friday, while Hamilton (2-3) plays host to Dobson (1-4).

Mountain Pointe junior middle linebacker Rashion Hodge says help from a knowledgeable source – his brother, Rashie, who was one of the best in the state at the position two years ago – is helping him grow into the leader of a stingy Pride defense.   Zach Alvira/Tribune Staff

Pride linebacker Hodge emerging as playmaker on stingy defense

Mountain Pointe’s Rashion Hodge knew at a young age that he was destined to be a linebacker.

He heard stories about his father playing it at South Mountain High and he saw his older brother, Rashie, transform into one of the best linebackers in the state as a senior for the Pride in 2016.

Rashie went on to play for South Dakota State but has since transferred to Glendale Community College as a running back.

With his brother back in the Valley, Rashion uses Rashie as a resource for advice, and it seems to be working.

“I picked a lot up from my brother,” Rashion said. “He taught me how to work hard. He had to work his way up to where he was. He worked hard and made a name for himself on varsity.”

Now a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, it’s Rashion who is starting to make a name for himself.

Through the Pride’s first three games, Hodge leads the Pride with 23 tackles, including one for a loss and a safety against Mountain View.

Last Saturday, Hodge and the Pride took on national power South Jordan (Utah) Bingham High, ranked 15th, in the Polynesian Classic in Henderson, Nevada. Despite the 21-14 loss, Hodge registered 11 tackles.

It’s not easy for a junior to take control of an experienced defense.

“He is becoming a leader in the right way and that’s what we look forward to,” Mountain Pointe linebackers coach Brandon Whitener said. “He is already barking at guys if they line up in the wrong spot. That’s a good thing because he knows what is going on around him and will help him play even faster.”

Hodge has speed and range. His ability to run from sideline to sideline and maintain his balance while making a hit are traits that have jumped out to Whitener and the rest of the coaching staff in their first season at Mountain Pointe.

Beyond that, it’s Hodge’s length. His long arms give him the ability to shed an opposing blocker and make a play.

“You look at him and without bending over he can almost scratch his knee caps,” Whitener said, laughing. “That’s a long kid, and being able to run and still move and work in space is impressive.”

It’s been a seamless transition for Hodge under new head coach Rich Wellbrock and his staff.

Along with Whitener, Hodge has learned the Pride’s new defense from coordinator Conrad Hamilton, who spent six years in the NFL as a defensive back.

From the style of coaching to the overall scheme, Hodge said he feels like there is a new vibe about the Mountain Pointe program, one that will lead to success.

“We have a different level of coaching now,” Hodge said. “There is more of a college feel here now. Coach Hamilton knows how colleges and pros work and we know that we need to listen to him because he has the experience.

“I’ve learned a lot from him and Coach Whitener, like breaking down in pass coverage and foot work.”

Only three games into his first varsity season, Hodge has yet to receive a Division 1 college offer but that doesn’t mean there aren’t schools interested. They’re waiting to see how Hodge pans out. Hodge said the Oregon State coaching staff, where former Pride players Timmy Hernandez and Wesley Payne play, has expressed interest.

Whitener, however, hopes Hodge remains under the radar for the duration of the season. He believes that would allow Hodge to further improve.

“As a first-year starter, it can put a lot of pressure on a kid to perform, especially coming after his brother, who had a lot of success at Mountain Pointe,” Whitener said. “Right now, I just want him to be his own guy and understand what he needs to do with this defense. I want him to carve out his own path as far as what his future is going to entail.”

Exactly what his path is remains to be seen, but with coaches in place who want him to succeed, as well as an older brother sharing advice from his time playing the same position, Hodge is on the path to becoming one of the best linebackers in the class of 2020 in Arizona.

Before that, he has another goal in mind.

“I’m just trying to execute and work hard,” Hodge said. “I want to be the hardest-working man on the field and get my team to the championship.”

Mountain Pointe’s Diamante Landrum goes high to make an interception in front of teammate Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson in the first quarter of Friday’s football game against Mountain View at Karl Kiefer Stadium. The Pride downed the Toros,45-18.   

Mountain Pointe’s defense gains redemption in rout of Mountain View

Mountain Pointe High’s defense, roughed up by Pinnacle in the season opener a week earlier, came ready Friday, shutting down Mountain View, 45-18, at Karl Kiefer Stadium.

Just seven days removed from giving up 56 points at Pinnacle, some against Pioneer backups, the Pride got to Mountain View quarterback Brandon Nunez often, not allowing him time or space to throw.

Motivated by that opening loss and hungry for the first home win, and the first win under new coach Rich Wellbrock, Mountain Pointe’s defense set the tone starting with a tackle for a safety by junior Rashion Hodge.

“Last week we lost and we knew we had to come back stronger,” Hodge said. “The defense was a little less complicated than last week.”

Noting that his defense was moving better and making quicker reads, Wellbrock said he was happy with the effort. His defense shut down the Toros in the first half as the Pride built a 25-0 lead and coasted home.

“We hit and flew around a little bit more early. That was something that I’m really pleased with. The linebackers played much better, and it was good to have them running around and having some fun out there,” Welbrock said.

Offensively, once again the connection between Pride senior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt and junior receiver Dominique Davis could not be stopped. The pair connected on three touchdown passes. In the opener, Davis caught five passes for 211 yards and a score.

After the safety in the first quarter, MP returned the ensuing punt to the Toros 37-yard line. It took one play for Wallerstedt to find Davis streaking down the field uncovered for an easy touchdown. Wellbrock told an assistant coach early that “our play is open.”

“We always try to make sure we connect on the deep ball,” Davis said.

Wallerstedt consistently threw Davis’ way, lobbing the ball and allowing 6-foot-2 Davis to elevate and grab it.

“I love it, and the post is my favorite route,” Davis said. “We just worked in practice over and over.”

Mountain View did not go down easily. An early defensive stop in the third quarter and good punt return gave some momentum to the Toros. Nunez suddenly made plays deep down the field, leading touchdown drives on successive possessions. Suddenly the lead was 13 midway through the third quarter.

“They hit us with something harder than we thought they would,” Hodge said.

Then Mountain View muffed a punt deep in its territory and Mountain Pointe recovered. That turnover seemingly gave away not only the ball but also the momentum.

“I think everybody in the building knew that was probably the end of their run. If they could have gotten the ball there and scored, we’d have a whole different ball game,” Wellbrock said.

As excited as he was to secure his first win with the Pride, Wellbrock said he still saw a lot of room for improvement.

Despite two interceptions and a recovered fumble, the Pride defense dropped a few interception chances and blew others with penalties. On offense, even though Davis caught three touchdown passes from Wallerstedt, he dropped a couple of long balls and Wallerstedt overthrew a couple of open receivers downfield.

Wellbrock views those mistakes as a chance to improve.

“I think they got better (since the opener). I’ve been telling everybody for quite a while that we’re going to be a different team come October and November. And, I still believe that,” Wellbrock said. “We left a lot of points out there tonight on both sides of the ball. This isn’t a finished product by any means, and that’s exciting as a coach.”

The Pride (1-1) head to Henderson, Nevada, next Saturday to face the No. 17 team in the nation, South Jordan (Utah) Bingham High, as part of the Touchdowns Against Cancer Games.

The loss drops Mountain View to 1-2. The Toros visit Queen Creek on Friday.

Mountain Pointe 45, Mountain View 18

 

Mountain View    0    0   12    6 – 18

Mountain Pointe  9  16    7   13 – 45

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.”