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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.

     

    Pride players in 247 Sports top Arizona recruits.

    2018 Top Arizona Football Recruits

    The list below ranks players by 247Sports Composite Rating

    Last updated on 10/27/17 at 11:29 AM CST

    Three Pride players in 247 top 50 in Arizona.

    Kenny Churchwell – Ranked #8

    Shomari Hayes – Ranked #36

    Gary Bragg – Ranked #40

    Mason Honne – #53

     

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

    Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Photographer

    Pride, Thunder look for comebacks this week

    By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  

    For the first time since 2014, both Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools are coming off losses in the same week after the Pride was stunned by Desert Ridge and the Thunder fell in double overtime to Highland.

    The Thunder (5-3) will carry a two-game losing streak into Mesa, but will be met by a Desert Ridge (7-1) squad that is coming off arguably its biggest win of the season after beating Mountain Pointe 31-20.

    Against Mountain Pointe, the Jaguars ran a two-quarterback system with sophomore Matthew Purnell and junior Cooper Schmidt that seemed to give the Pride defense fits all night long.

    The two quarterbacks combined for 108 yards on the ground, including a 17-yard Cooper Schmidt touchdown run that gave the Jaguars the lead late in the game.

    Schmidt has been more effective on the ground this season, rushing for 406 yards and six touchdowns compared to Purnell’s 99 rushing yards and one touchdown. But, Purnell has been more effective through the air, completing 70 percent of his passes compared to Schmidt’s 57 percent.

    While the Thunder defense will have to keep an eye on both quarterbacks, it’ll also have to watch out for the Jaguars’ trio of running backs.

    Lucas Wright, Tyrese Allen, and Deonce Elliot all have been strong out of the backfield, as each one has rushed for at least 400 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Tyrese Allen leads the way with 567 yards and 10 touchdowns.

    Thunder seniors Larry Davis and Caleb Humphrey will play a major role on Friday in stopping their running game.

    How the Desert Vista offense handles the Jaguars defense will be another key to this 6A Central Region matchup. The Desert Ridge defense picked off two passes late in the game and held their running to a minimum.

    The Jaguars stacked the box and tried to hold Mountain Pointe’s run game to a minimum, but look for the Thunder to rely on senior quarterback Derek Kline.

    The 6-foot-5 Nevada transplant has been huge for Desert Vista all season long, throwing for 1,377 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s also been great using his legs to escape pressure and run when no one is open, tallying 305 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

    Friday night will be a battle at the line of scrimmage between two teams looking to solidify themselves in the playoff picture. And after two straight losses, Desert Vista will be looking to come out strong and catch the Jaguars off guard.

    The two teams kick off at 7 p.m. at Desert Ridge High School.

    Mountain Pointe vs Corona del Sol

    The Pride (6-2) will look to bounce back from their first home loss since 2011 when it takes on the Corona del Sol Aztecs (1-7) on Friday.

    Mountain Pointe should be able to bounce back as the Aztecs won’t provide much resistance on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve allowed 285 points this season and haven’t won since their matchup with La Joya Community on Aug. 25.

    While the Aztecs don’t provide much of a defensive resistance, they do have a high-powered offense behind junior quarterback Ryan Helt, who has thrown for 2,346 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.

    He’s also thrown 13 interceptions in the process. The 6-foot-1 quarterback has thrown for at least 150 yards in each game and recently threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns against Gilbert.

    His favorite target this year has been junior receiver Ricky Pearsall, a 6-foot-1 junior who has caught 61 passes for 1,030 yards and was a big part of Helt’s success against Gilbert, catching 14 passes for 342 yards and five touchdowns.

    Unfortunately for the pair of Aztecs, they will run into one of the best secondaries in the state.

    The Pride secondary hasn’t allowed over 100 yards passing since their matchup with Desert Vista in the Ahwatukee Bowl.

    It also has picked off 14 passes this season and deflected 55 more. Helt will run into one of the best all-around defenses he has faced this season, as the Pride boast a big defensive line led by senior Shomari Hayes along with their strong secondary.

    After being somewhat silenced against Desert Ridge, look for the Mountain Pointe backfield to break out quickly against a defense that has allowed over 100 yards rushing in every game this season.

    With two games left in the season, look for the Mountain Pointe Pride to get back on track before its final game of the season against Gilbert High on Oct. 27. Mountain Pointe and Corona del Sol kick off at 7 p.m. at Corona del Sol high school.

    -Reach Sports Editor Greg Macafee at gmacafee@timespublications.com. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee

    By  YurView – 

    There is another Thursday night marquee Arizona high school football matchup this week on Yurview, as Desert Ridge and Mountain Pointe square off. Both teams enter with identical 6-1 records, making this a pivotal 6A matchup. The game can be seen on Yurview Arizona at 7:00pm MST and will also be streaming live at Yurview.com.

    Hot Streaks

    Both Desert Ridge and Mountain Pointe are on winning streaks entering Thursday’s contest. Jeremy Hathcock’s Desert Ridge has won four straight games, each of them by 20 points or more. On the other side, the Pride haven’t lost since a Week 2 tilt with California power Chaminade. They’ve won five straight, squeaking out the last two by 5 points and one point respectively.

    Run Run Run

    Both teams love to hand the ball to their backs. The Jaguars hand it to Tyrese Allen, and he’s racked up nearly 2000 yards over the last two seasons.

    Mountain Pointe has a two-headed monster in the backfield, and Norris Vaughan’s Pride run for 267 yards per game. Senior Gary Bragg has almost 700 yards so far this season, while junior Jakim McKinney has a 200 yard, 4 touchdown game to his name this season. He’s the lightning to Bragg’s thunder.

    Players to Watch

    DB Don’Jae Logan – Desert Ridge

    He’s the #4 rated defensive back in Arizona, which is saying something going against all those stud quarterbacks in the state. He’s headed to Stanford next season with his 3.7 GPA.

    DT Shomari Hayes – Mountain Pointe

    Picking up the slack for injured Mathew Pola-Mao, the #2 ranked 2019 prospect in Arizona, Hayes has received a Fresno State offer and has garnered a lot of interest from Pac-12 schools.

    DB Kenny Churchwell –  Mountain Pointe

    He has Pac-12 interest as well, picking up offers from both Arizona State and Arizona among others. Watch for Mountain Pointe to get him the ball on offense also.

     

    Desert Ridge takes on Mountain Pointe on Yurview Arizona and streaming live on Yurview.com at 7:00pm MST on Thursday October 12th.

    Mountain Pointe’s Gary Bragg runs past Desert Vista’s Colby Humphrey in the first half at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Ariz. on September 28, 2017.  (Photo: Patrick Breen/The Republic)

    Mountain Pointe grinds out win over Desert Vista in Ahwatukee Bowl

    , azcentral sportsPublished 10:33 p.m. MT Sept. 28, 2017 | Updated 6:50 a.m. MT Sept. 29, 2017

    With emotions playing a part in the Ahwatukee Bowl, Phoenix Mountain Pointe fumbled on the opening kickoff. It had a rash of penalties, including a personal foul that helped a Phoenix Desert Vista scoring drive.

    But, in the end, visiting Mountain Pointe prevailed 21-16, behind stellar defense, quarterback Nick Wallerstedt’s ability to escape defenders, defensive lineman Shomari Hayes’ wreaking havoc in the backfield and another great rushing game by Jakim McKinney.

    McKinney, coming off a 200-yard game, whisked away Desert Vista’s momentum with a 61-yard scoring run with 7:53 left to give the Pride a 21-10 lead.

    Desert Vista (4-2) scored on the last play – a 60-yard strike from Derek Kline to sophomore Tyson Grubbs – to make it look closer.

    It was the sixth consecutive season that second-ranked (6A) Mountain Pointe (5-1) beat Desert Vista. The last time Desert Vista beat Mountain Pointe was the 2011 season when it won the state championship.

    “I’m proud of my guys,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said.

    It was the sixth straight year Mountain Pointe beat its Ahwatukee rival in football

    Standout performer

    Junior RB Jakim McKinney, 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, ran for 154 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He had 200 yards and four TDs on 19 carries last week in a 58-34 win over Phoenix Pinnacle.

    More standouts

    • Mountain Pointe senior defensive lineman Shomari Hayes, 6-2, 290, was in Desert Vista’s backfield much of the night, making life miserable for Kline. He had three sacks and slowed down Desert Vista’s run game.
    • Wallerstedt, a junior quarterback, gave Mountain Pointe a 14-3 lead on a 15-yard scramble early in the second quarter. He was able to extend drives most of the night with his left, escaping trouble and finding the sideline after first-down runs.
    • Bragg, who missed the second half of last season with a knee injury, once again showed great burst. He gave Mountain Pointe a 7-3 lead with a 34-yard run after Desert Vista cashed in on Mountain Pointe’s fumble on a kickoff to start the game with Matt Lewis’ 42-yard field goal.

    Star watch

    Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan lauded the play of Desert Vista junior defensive tackle Brett Johnson, 6-3, 250, who was key to clogging  the middle and slowing down Mountain Pointe’s power run game and making Wallerstedt really work for tough yardage.

    Quotes

    • “Too many mistakes, too much emotion,” Vaughan said. “We didn’t play well, and they did.”
    • “They were blitzing and I got some good blocks and I was able to break it,” McKinney on his long TD run.

    Stat of the game

    Desert Vista took the second-half kickoff and drove 87 yards on 13 plays, scoring on Travon Offutt’s 4-yard run that cut the score to 14-10. Kline completed three passes on the drive and was helped after an 11-yard run on a late hit by Mountain Pointe that gave the Thunder another 15 yards.

    Up next

    Desert Vista plays host to Gilbert next week, while Mountain Pointe plays host to Gilbert Highland.

    To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert. Watch the azcentral sports high school football show on the azcentral sports Facebook page, with a new episode live every Wednesday at 7 p.m.

    Jakim McKinney breaks a run to the outside Thursday night against Desert Vista. [Photo by Cheryl Haselhorst]

    Mountain Pointe High defeats Desert Vista in Tukee Bowl

    By Greg Macafee AFN Sports Editor  |  9/29/17

      Led by another stellar running performance from running backs Gary Bragg and Jakim McKinney, the Mountain Pointe Pride took the overall lead in the annual Ahwatukee Bowl with a 21-16 lead over Desert Vista Thursday night at Desert Vista High School.

      Just like they have all season long, the Pride pounded the football on the ground throughout the night. Although the Thunder defense kept Bragg and McKinney contained for most of the night, both broke off long touchdown runs. 

      Bragg’s lone touchdown of the night came on a 34-yard scamper at the 7:11 mark of the 1st quarter. The 5-10, 175 pound running back broke to the outside and sprinted up the sideline for Mountain Pointe’s first score of the ball game.

      McKinney’s score with 7:53 left in the 4th quarter put the game away for the Pride. Like he had done multiple times throughout the ball game, he broke it to the outside, avoided a tackle or two and streaked down the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown run.

      “Coach Vaughan likes to keep pounding it and keep on doing it,” junior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt said of the consistency of Mountain Pointe’s running game. “Because one play they are just going to give up and it’s going to be a big play.”

      Wallerstedt was a big part of Mountain Pointe’s success Thursday night as well, scampering for a rushing touchdown of his own from 14-yards out to put the Pride up 14-3 in the 1st half. In the end, Wallerstedt he was just trying to pick up a few yards when he did not see anyone open downfield.

      The only blemish for the junior quarterback came in the 2nd quarter, just 12 seconds before half. Their seemed to be a miscommunication between him and his wide receiver, and senior defensive back Austin Werbelow was all alone to come down with the ball.

      Although the Pride got the last laugh, it was the Thunder who started off on the right foot. After the Thunder won the toss and deferred to the second half, the Pride chose to receive. Delano Salgado received the kickoff and took off up the left side of the field. But when he reached an open section of the field, the ball suddenly popped out and the Thunder recovered.

      The Thunder ended the ensuing offensive drive with a 42-yard field goal from junior kicker Matt Lewis. But it would be the only points of the first half for the Thunder as a hyped-up Mountain Pointe defensive line, led by senior Shomari Hayes, found their way into the backfield plenty of times throughout the night. 

      “We came in here energized man, it’s fun playing them, the Tukee Bowl it’s always fun,” Hayes said. “I came in here energized up and anything I can do for the team I’ll do it, whether that means getting in the backfield every play or sitting on the bench, whatever it takes to help this team win. 

      Even after multiple three-and-outs throughout the first half, the Thunder offense never gave up. Coming out of the locker room to start the second half they put together their longest drive of the game.

      Starting on the 15-yard line, the Thunder drove 85 yards for a score. The drive was led by Derek Kline, who completed a pass to Werbelow on 4th down to keep it alive. But, it was finished off by running back Travon Offut. The 5-foot- junior carried the ball the final three plays of the drive, before punching it into the end zone from four yards out.

      “He ran hard tonight and these kids are getting better every week,” Desert Vista head coach Daniel Hinds said of Offut.

      The Thunder added a touchdown as time expired when Derek Kline found a receiver from 60-yards out for the 21-16 final score of the 21st annual Ahwatukee Bowl.

      The Pride improve to 5-1 on the season and will face Highland (5-1) on October 6. Desert Vista falls to 4-2 on the season, with both losses coming to teams in top three of the AZPreps365 power rankings, will host Purdue commit Jack Plummer and the No. 12-ranked Gilbert Tigers.

      Do you have a human-interest or feature story idea? Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee atgmacafee@timespublications.com or by phone at 585-610-2344. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee

      By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  Sep 27, 2017

      Tukee Bowl: Some of the players to watch

      Both the Pride and Thunder are loaded with talent. Here are a few to watch on the field Thursday.

      Mountain Pointe

      • Nick Wallerstedt, quarterback

      Everyone knows about Mountain Pointe’s running backs. Once the running game gets established, look for the junior QB to affect the game in a big way. He’s already run for 303 yards and three touchdowns this season and he has been effective through the air in 2017 as well, throwing for 520 yards and three touchdowns.

      • Jakim McKinney, running back

      Heading into this season, the back to watch in the Mountain Pointe backfield was Gary Bragg, who started off last year as one of the top backs in the state before tearing his ACL. Although he is still one of the top backs in the state, McKinney has put his mark on the Pride backfield. While Bragg has rushed for 445 yards and four touchdowns, McKinney has 518 yards and nine touchdowns, complementing Bragg perfectly.

      • Shomari Hayes, defensive lineman

      After the injury to Matthew Pola-Mao, fellow defensive lineman Shomari Hayes has emerged as a major weapon for the Pride. He leads the team in tackles and has recorded three sacks in five games this season. If Hayes can wreak havoc in the backfield Thursday, Kline and the Thunder run game could be in for a long night.

      Desert Vista

      • Larry Davis, linebacker

      Davis is the anchor for the Desert Vista defense. He led the Thunder in tackles as a junior and continued that success this season for a strong DV defense.  With the strength of the Pride’s running game, Davis will be a big factor if the Thunder look to come out on top, and he will need to lead the charge at the line of scrimmage.

      • Derek Kline, quarterback

      Kline is a newcomer to the Tukee Bowl, but he could arguably be the biggest factor of whether the Thunder will come out on top. Since starting the season throwing two interceptions against Perry, he’s been exceptional. But, he’ll be going up against one of the best secondarys in the state, led by Delano Salgado and Kenny Churchwell.

      • James Stagg, tight end

      One of the more intriguing matchups of this year’s Tukee Bowl will be Kline vs. a strong Mountain Pointe secondary. This is where Stagg could play a big role for the Thunder. As a big-bodied tight end, the Naval Academy commit could must go up against a fast and strong secondary for Mountain Pointe.

      Photo: Cheryl Hasehorst/AFN Contributor

      Tukee Bowl teams at the top of their game

      By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  Sep 27, 2017

      It’s an annual event that draws close to 10,000 people, pits two of the best high school football teams in Arizona against each other and showcases some of the best talent in the state.

      It’s the Ahwatukee Bowl.

      This year’s game may be more difficult to predict than any in the past as both teams will take the field at Desert Vista high school Thursday night with records of 4-1. They both bring strong defenses and an ability to score the football in more ways than one.

      Mountain Pointe has had a strong start to the season while it battled with crucial injuries early in the season.

      Gary Bragg and Jakim McKinney have become one of the best running back duos in the state, racking up 963 yards and 13 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt has proved to be just as dangerous running the ball, rushing for 303 yards and three touchdowns.

      The Pride scored 20-plus points in all five of their games and has allowed their defense to shine early this season. A strong secondary consisting of Kenny Churchwell, Delano Salgado, Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson and Marshawn Gibson have been lights out, picking off six passes and deflecting 24 more.

      The defensive line has been just as strong. Shomari Hayes and Tyre Johnson have combined for 61 tackles and four sacks and junior Kenneth Lofton has also broken into the backfield for five sacks this season.

      Altogether, the defense has allowed opposing teams to score a total of only 100 points this season, with 70 of those points coming in two games.

      The Thunder has attacked its opponents in a different way from the Pride, but it has a strong approach on the defensive side of the ball that has kept most of their opponents quiet.

      The team has only allowed their opponents to score 95 points, with 49 of them coming in their season-opening loss to a strong Perry squad that has since taken the 6A scene by storm.

      Since that game, Desert Vista has been as strong as ever, recently pitching a shutout against Dobson High.

      The defense has been led by senior linebacker Larry Davis, who has racked up a total of 47 tackles this season and has sacked the opposing quarterback four times this season.

      Offensively, the Thunder has relied on new quarterback Derek Kline, who had thrown for 849 yards and nine touchdowns leading into a 42-0 win over Dobson last Friday.

      Kline has shown his ability to spread the ball around to several of his weapons as four different receivers have 100-plus yards and five have found the end zone in 2017.

      Heading into their matchup with Dobson, Kline had also led the Thunder in rushing with 150 yards and sophomore Tyson Grubbs has added 142 yards on the ground as well.

      While the Thunder has been somewhat pass heavy, it has still been able to find the end zone on the ground as senior Keishaud White has scored three touchdowns on the ground.

      The Thunder established an ability to adapt to whatever opposing defenses throw at them so far through 2017 and come Thursday its ability to do that will be more important than ever.

      As both teams have established where their strengths lie, the 2017 Tukee Bowl will come down to a couple of different things.

      How Kline fares against a strong Mountain Pointe secondary will be huge. If the 6-foot-5 gunslinger, who will experience his first Ahwatukee Bowl experience, can be affective and avoid turnovers, the Thunder could establish an early lead. Look for White and Navy commit James Stagg to play a big role in the passing game.

      The Thunder may also try to establish a run game with a stable of backs in Grubbs, White, and Travon Offut, who is coming off a 15 carry 92-yard performance against Dobson. With the strong defensive play of the Mountain Pointe lineman, this may prove difficult for the Thunder.

      Another key piece will be Mountain Pointe’s ability to establish the run game.

      It hasn’t had a problem accomplishing that this year, which in turn has opened a lot of possibilities for the rest of the Pride offense. The main benefactor of that has been Wallerstedt, who has taken advantage of defenses keying on Bragg and McKinney with option runs and play action passes.

      Keying in on the run game and forcing Mountain Pointe to beat them through the air could be a major factor for the Desert Vista defenders.

      This is where Davis and Humphrey will be crucial for the home team as the Mountain Pointe run game has been devastating teams all season long.

      Both teams are filled with loads of talent and many different players could emerge to fill a major role in one of the most highly anticipated rivalry games in Arizona.

      Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe will kick off at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Desert Vista High School.

      -Do you have a human-interest or feature story idea? Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee at gmacafee@timespublications.com or 585-610-2344. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee