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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.

Tukee Bowl 2016: Defensive back Isaiah Pola-Mao #9 of Mountain Pointe takes down #84 of Desert Vista during the 20th annual Tukee Bowl on Friday, September 30, 2016. [Photo courtesey of Bill Hardiman, special to Tribune]

Tukee Bowl a classic rivalry with special meaning

By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  

Rivalries often develop between two teams or two individuals, but when two high school teams share the same community, it adds even more meaning to a game.

That’s how it has always been in Ahwatukee when Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools take to the field for the annual Tukee Bowl. The stands are full and you can feel the fans’ energy.

“It’s a lot of stuff, but it’s a big-game atmosphere, every year,” said Desert Vista head coach Daniel Hinds. “It’s a lot of people and there’s a lot of energy. You can feel it. I think the players, naturally get excited about that game.

“There aren’t too many rivalries around the state that are quite like this one and the reason I say that is because you have two high schools that are nestled back here in the Ahwatukee Foothills in a real tight-knit community and the kids all know each other, so it makes it really cool.”

Phoenix City Councilman and Ahwatukee representative Sal DiCiccio said he has attended most of the contests, including the first, and added that “it’s huge for the community.”

Even though the scores present a different story, the last two contests have been close, with Mountain Pointe coming out on top both times to even the overall bowl record to 10 apiece.

The Pride went on to finish with records of 12-1 and 13-1 and appeared in the state semi-finals and the state championship. The Thunder finished the 2014 and 2015 seasons with identical 7-5 records, falling to Chandler High in the state playoffs both years.

Hinds has been on the sidelines every year for the matchup between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe.

He remembers when the rivalry started. While the Thunder staff has stayed consistent, Mountain Pointe has gone through a couple of changes over the years. In the beginning, Hinds even had the opportunity to coach against an old friend.

“A rivalry is a rivalry, but when it first started for me, the guy I played for in high school, Karl Kiefer, was the head coach at Mountain Pointe,” Hinds said. “So, it made it real special, real neat and pretty fun.”

Players on both sides have personal connections with each other as well. Two of the best defensive players in this year’s matchup, Kenny Churchwell of Mountain Pointe, and Desert Vista’s Larry Davis, have been best friends for quite some time.

“Seeing them again for the last time on the same field together, that is going to be something special,” Davis said.

The competition between the two schools doesn’t just take place on the field, but off it as well.

For the past two years, both schools have used the week leading up to the game to fundraise for the Make-a-Wish foundation in a weeklong competition. They call it “Wish Week.”

“We know many are excited and looking forward to the game, so our student body started raising money for Make-a-Wish during the week of this game,” Mountain Pointe Principal Bruce Kipper said. “I am proud of our students for wanting to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Added Desert Vista Principal Christine Barela: “Everyone enjoys winning, but the overall spirit and positive atmosphere it brings to the school the week of the game and game night is positively electrifying! It is so much fun.”

Outside of fundraising, the game also is a social event for both student bodies that is a must-see event.

Brandon Schmoll, a Desert Vista alumnus and a member of the Tempe Union High School Governing Board, said that if there was one football game you went to, it was the Tukee Bowl.

“Even if you’re not a student or a parent, but you like the feel of being close to the field watching a high-energy game and at the same time support your local school, it’s perfect,” Schmoll said.

The game equals some of the best rivalries in Arizona, like the “Battle for Arizona Avenue” between Chandler High and Hamilton. Hinds added that the rivalry reminded him of the old matchups between McClintock and Tempe high schools.

“This is very rare to have a rivalry like this. People think it happens all over but it’s not true,” DiCiccio said. “It’s been interesting to watch the power shift over the years. First, Desert Vista was strong, then Mountain Pointe and now they’re kind of even. That’s the great thing about this game – anything can happen.”

Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe meet at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Desert Vista High School as they look to add another memorable game into the long history of the Ahwatukee Bowl.

-Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee at or 585-610-2344. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee.


Mountain Pointe dominates Mountain View on the Road [Photo Special to AFN]

Pride, Thunder tuning up this weekend for the Tukee Bowl

By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  

With the Ahwatukee Bowl just a week away, both Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools seem to be hitting their stride.

Since losing their first game of the season, the Thunder have won three straight games, including a nail-biting win over Brophy this past Friday.

Desert Vista quarterback Derek Kline, who hasn’t thrown an interception since the team’s match with Perry, has started to show the Phoenix area why he is one of the top quarterbacks in the state. In four games, the 6-foot-5 gunslinger has thrown for 849 yards and nine touchdowns while running for a team-leading 150 yards.

Desert Vista’s strengths lie in its versatility to take advantage of whatever the defense throws at it. Whether attacked on the ground or through the air, the Thunder can handle both. The team can stop the run and – with an entire secondary returning from last year – stymie a pass attack as well.

In its upcoming matchup at home with the Dobson High Mustangs (3-1),  the game will be decided by not just execution but by the team’s commitment to discipline on both sides of the ball. A lack of discipline plagued the Thunder in the first game of the season against Perry and showed again as it battled the Broncos on Friday.

Kline highlighted the mistakes after the game on Friday and admitted that it was something that needs to be addressed before their matchup with Dobson.

Desert Vista is on a roll, and in order to keep its win streak alive, the defense will have to contain the strong running game that the Mustangs bring to the table. It starts with junior running back Issic Gomez.

In its three victories this season, the 5-foot-5, 150-pound running back has been a key to the Mustang offense, running for 281 yards and four touchdowns. Aiding him is senior tailback Jared Haggard, who has added 21 carries for 109 yards in those three victories as well.

When the running game has worked for the Mustangs, the passing game has opened. Junior quarterback Nicolas Saro has been the main benefactor, throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target has been freshman wide receiver Xavier Jimenez, who has seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, the Mustangs have caused four fumbles in their three victories and held their opponents to a combined 29 points. They have also scored 85 points against those opponents as well.

Their lone loss against Gilbert High when Division I commit Jack Plummer threw for 133 yards and four touchdowns. Also, 10 different Tigers ran for a combined total of 213 yards.

This game will come down to the Thunder staying disciplined on both sides of the ball and not allowing the Mustangs to establish a run game early in the ballgame.

The two teams kick off at Dobson high school at 7 p.m. on Friday.


Mountain Pointe vs. Pinnacle

Mountain Pointe has won two games in a row against potential class 6A state playoff teams and its matchup this week will be no different, as it hosts Oklahoma commit Spencer Rattler and the Pinnacle Pioneers.

The Pride have dominated this year when they have established their running game. With Pinnacle struggling to stop the run game this season, look for head coach Norris Vaughan to do it once again this Friday night.

The Chandler backfield duo of Drake Anderson and DeCarlos Brooks combined 216 yards on the ground against Pinnacle. Although they didn’t get into the end zone, establishing the run game allowed quarterback Billy Bolger to dump the ball into the flats, finding Anderson for four touchdowns.

Centennial’s Zidane Thomas also thrashed the Pinnacle defense, carrying the ball 28 times for 334 yards and two touchdowns last week.

Establishing a running game will be a key component for the Pride to capture its fourth win of the season and build momentum into the Ahwatukee Bowl.

But, this is something the team has been able to do all season. Through four games, the Pride have rushed for 1,088 yards, which has opened options all over the field for quarterback Nick Wallerstedt.

The real challenge will be stopping Rattler.

In five games, the 6-foot-2, 185 pound gunslinger has been on a tear. He’s completed 91 passes for 1,066 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also has added 140 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Although he has been exceptional, the young prospect has thrown an interception in every game but one.

This is where the Pride could take advantage of one of the top quarterbacks in the state, as Mountain Pointe’s secondary has quickly risen to become one of the best in Arizona. The defense has picked off seven passes and have combined to deflect 34 more.

The combination of Salgado, Kenny Churchwell, Marshawn Gibson, and others have only allowed more than 200 passing yards once this season. That came last Friday when Brandon Nunez threw for 201 yards, but he never found the end zone through the air.

The two teams will kick off at Mountain Pointe for the first time this season at 7 p.m. on Friday.

-Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee at or by phone at 585-610-2344. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee


    Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Photographer
    “If we can stay healthy, we have a chance to get back to the state championship game, there’s no question,” Vaughn said.

    Hut, hut! Pride, Thunder ready for the 2017 season

    • By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  

    Ahwatukee always has at least one successful high school football team. But in 2017, the community will have two teams with the talent to make a run for a state championship.

    Last year ended the same way for both Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools – with losses to Chandler High in the Class 6A State Tournament. Desert Vista was knocked out in the quarterfinals, while Mountain Pointe made a run to the state championship game.

    The Pride finished the season ranked No. 1 in Class 6A and had beaten Chandler High earlier in the fall by 45 points.

    On its run to the championship and throughout the season, however, the Pride suffered numerous injuries. In its semifinal victory over Red Mountain High the team lost at least four starters.

    This season, the Pride will return with another strong defense featuring defensive backs Kenny Churchwell and Delano Salgado, who combined for 93 tackles and six interceptions.

    But injuries already have impacted the 2017 Pride.

    The defensive line will be missing Matthew Pola-Mao, who will miss the season due to injury, head coach Norris Vaughn said.

    Nevertheless, Vaughn said he likes his team’s chances if his players can avoid more major injuries.

    “If we can stay healthy, we have a chance to get back to the state championship game, there’s no question,” Vaughn said.

    Desert Vista is also feeling confident about its chances on the gridiron.

    “I feel like teams are going to have to try and win by their defense,” leading tackler Larry Davis said. “They gotta win by not letting our offense score because I don’t think a lot of people are going to score. Our defense is pretty stacked.”

    For Mountain Pointe, look for Jacob Olsen and Shomari Hayes to fill the void left by the 6-foot-2, 308-pound Pola-mao.

    Olsen led the team in sacks in 2016 with six and made 87 tackles as well. Hayes was another big piece of the Prides hard-hitting defense last season, racking up 74 tackles, 11.5 of them being for a loss.

    The Pride will have a stout defense in 2017, but they will also have another solid offense.

    Tailback Gary Bragg returns from an ACL injury that ended his junior season after rushing for 891 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games. They will also return quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, who filled in for injured Noah Grover last season, throwing for 558 yards and four touchdowns.

    Salgado will also have a significant role in the offense for the Pride. The senior tailback rushed for 730 yards and six touchdowns last season.

    After a 7-5 season, the Desert Vista Thunder are looking to return strong in 2017 with a potent offense and an even stronger defense.

    They finished their run in 2016 with a devastating 62-7 loss against eventual state champion Chandler High in the quarterfinals, after finishing the regular season ranked 10th in Class 6A.

    Although Desert Vista graduated starting QB Nick Thomas and leading rusher Lelon Dillard, the Thunder still have several returning players who will have a larger role in 2017.

    With Nevada transplant quarterback Derek Kline under center, the Thunder will boast an offense with plenty of weapons, both in the backfield and on the outside.

    James Stagg and Keishaud White both return to the offense after combining for nine touchdowns and 750-plus receiving yards last season.

    Defensively, head coach Daniel Hinds said, the Thunder is returning its entire secondary as well as Davis, who made 93 tackles last season and racked up 6.5 sacks as well.

    Caleb Humphrey and Stagg also return to a defense that could be dangerous throughout the season.

    Of course, a highlight of the season will come Sept. 28, when Desert Vista hosts its crosstown rival in the Tukee Bowl.

    Last year’s Tukee Bowl saw seniors on both sides scoring all 43 points of a 27-16 Mountain Pointe win.

    Rashie Hodge Jr. and Antwaun Woodberry combined for three touchdowns on the ground while Noah Grover found Isaiah Pola-mao through the air for the only passing touchdown of the game.

    For Desert Vista, Lelon Dillard found the end zone on the ground and senior kicker Riley Erickson put two field goals and an extra point through the uprights.

    Both Ahwatukee teams always provide exciting matchups for the bowl game.

    “Everything about it, you have this community two schools in it, the kids know each other,” Hinds said. “It’s just fun to be a part of.”


    Running back Anthony Stephens #1 of Mountain Pointe is hit out of bounds during the first half of the 20th annual Tukee Bowl high school football game between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe at Mountain Pointe High School on Friday, September 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  [Photo by Billy Hardiman/Special to Tribune]

    Stephens, Pride running game continue to roll without Bragg

    Posted: Thursday, October 6, 2016 10:51 am

    A characteristic of a seasoned running back is patience, waiting for a play to develop before turning up field.

    Anthony Stephens has shown signs of being that type of runner, but he admittedly didn’t have it in him in Mountain Pointe’s third game of the year.

    It was his first after being suspended for disciplinary reasons the first two games, meaning every carry was like three carries in his mind as he tried to make up for his mistake.

    “I was anxious and I just wanted to go,” he said this week. “I wanted to make up for that lost time. I was the starting running back and then just like that I wasn’t. I had to calm down and see things differently.”

    He sees things differently not only with the ball in his hands, but also what it truly meant to be a good teammate.

    Missing that time because of something he did in the offseason cost him a more prominent role to start the year and vital time on the field.

    More telling was the fact that he put himself before the team.

    “I learned a lot,” Stephens said. “When you are in it for the team, it comes with a lot of sacrifices and commitments. I should have known it all along but that mistake really showed me what it means to be a teammate.”

    The guy who took over his starting spot, junior Gary Bragg, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament two weeks ago in the win over Pinnacle.

    Bragg was on his way to an all-state type of season with 891 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games, but now he is in rehab mode.

    “All I can do is work hard and come back stronger,” Bragg said from the sidelines of the Ahwautkee Bowl.

    It means Stephens and others have a chance to become the main back in the Pride’s dominant running game, which averages 327.5 yards a game entering Friday’s game at Highland (2-4).

    The one thing that separates the 5-foot-10, 168-pound Stephens is that fact he only plays offense while Antwaun Woodberry (cornerback), Rashie Hodge (linebacker) and Delano Salgado (cornerback) have started on defense.

    “We are going to mix it up, but we have to limit some of these guys on offense because they are so important on defense,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “Woodberry can be special, but he is kind still learning back there. Hodge could be the guy, but we don’t want to wear him down too much.”

    With the way the offensive line is playing, and the versatility it has shown in recent weeks, whoever lines up in the backfield is going to find holes to their liking.

    “We are going to hold this position down,” Woodberry said on Friday. “We will pick (Bragg) up. He was going off, and now we have to step up.”

    Senior Eddie Rivas has played every position depending on the opponent, Mason Honne moved from tackle to center,

    Justice Hudson went from center to left guard and only right guard Rudy Rauls has played the same position, Sophomore Alex Vogel has found his way into the lineup at left tackle as Matthew Pola-Mao and Shomari Hayes started to concentrate on defense only.

    “If we do our job it doesn’t matter who is back there,” Honne said. “They’re all good, and we have been creating some holes. We’ve made some changes and we’ve all adjusted to it.”

    It’s been a winning combination, but Vaughan said the passing game may be counted on more without Bragg, whom he called the best running back in the state.

    “It’s not going to change much,” he said. “It hurts you, but these guys are going to get better. Going forward though we are probably going to throw the ball more.”

    However it shakes out the rest of the season, Stephens, who is the second leading rusher with 43 carries for 316 yards and three touchdowns, is ready to make the most of his opportunity.


    “If I see it I’ll take it, but sometimes you have to wait it out,” he said. “You have let things develop and then turn it up. A good back can do both and I think we all have it covered.”

    – Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

    – Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.


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    Mountain Pointe’s Xavier Cota blocks a punt against Desert Vista in the first quarter of the Pride’s 27-13 win over the Thunder.  [Photo By Billy Hardiman, Special to AFN]

    GameNight: Late DV turnover, MP TD seals Tukee Bowl for Pride

    Posted: Friday, September 30, 2016 11:45 pm | Updated: 11:54 pm, Fri Sep 30, 2016.

    It probably won’t go down in the annals of Ahwatukee Bowl history as a classic or one of the more memorable games in the first 20 years of the series.

    Mountain Pointe’s 27-13 win at Karl Kiefer Stadium did, howver, provide the unexpected though as many thought the nation’s 10th-ranked team to have an easier game against Desert Vista than what transpired as the Pride evened the series at 10-10.

    The game was undecided until early in the fourth quarter when a turnover by the Thunder on their side of the field led to Mountain Pointe’s final score and a two-possession game with less than 11 minutes left in the game.

    “They were a real good team, and we probably under estimated a little bit,” senior running back/cornerback Antwaun Woodberry said. “They have to play both ways a lot. They played us tough.”

    It looked to be going the way of a blowout when it was 14-0 with three minutes left in the first quarter and the Pride (6-0) blocked a but reality was it was a one-score game in the fourth quarter.

    Then Thunder newcomer Alijah Gammage, playing his first game after transferring from Valley Christian, threw his first pass after a bobbled snap that was intercepted by Pride newcomer Donte Lindsey, who was in his first game after coming over from Cesar Chavez.

    The pass was short, and Lindsey game up with the pick, when there was an open Desert Vista (2-4) receiver underneath.

    “He’s a playmaker and we have a package for him,” Hinds said. “That was just a call we made at the time.”

    Three plays later Pride running back Rashie Hodge score from scored on a 29-yard run to give Mountain Pointe a 27-13 lead with remaining.

    “They played us tough,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “We didn’t take advantage of some of our opportunities, had too many penalties, but we got that turnover in the fourth quarter and got a big score there.”

    Mountain Pointe won against its neighborhood rival despite losing top running back Gary Bragg to a knee injury and were without starting cornerback Delano Salgado and inside linebacker Michael Washington.

    A sign of a good team is being able to overcome struggles and a loss of players without much of a drop in level of play and the end result.

    “We have some depth and that showed tonight,” said senior running back Noah Grover, who was 8 of 9 for 124 yards including a 63-yard touchdown to Isaiah Pola-Mao with 1:49 left before the half for a 20-6 lead.

    “We were able to overcome some things and still get the win. Most of our games have been pretty easy but we had to play this one until the end.”

    The Thunder had their chances but never led, but pulled within 20-13 with 5:51 left in the third quarter when Lelon Dillard scored on a direct snap 2-yard run.

    “They are a really good team,” senior two-way lineman Myles Wilson said. “We played the No. 10 team in the nation and we had a chance to tie it in the fourth quarter. We don’t have to go back to the drawing board. W just have to play a little bit better and finish the season strong.”

    The Pride walked off the field with a new traveling trophy presented by the AFN and won their fifth straight win in the series.

    “We lost (at the freshmen level) and then at JV level before winning last year on varsity,” Grover said. “We evened it up for our class and it means everything to know that we won the last two in our career as seniors.”

    * Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

    MP 27, DV 13

    DV   0 6 7 0-27

    MP 14 6 0 7-13



    MP – Woodberry 70 run (Abercrombie kick), 10:50

    MP – Hodge 12 run (Abercrombie kick), 3:38


    DV – Erickson 27 FG, 7:53

    DV – Erickson 27 FG, 5:10

    MP – Pola-Mao 63 pass from Grover (kick failed), 1:49


    DV – Dillard 2 run (Eickson kick), 5:51


    MP – Hodge 29 run (Abercrombie kick), 10:41

    Team stats

                                 DV                 MP

    First downs          14                  15

    Rush-yards         28-113           28-271

    Comp-Att-Int      20-33-1            8-9-0

    Pass yards           246                  124

    Total yards           359                   395

    Fumble/Lost          2/0                  1/0

    Penalties              4-30                 8-75

    Individual stats


    DV –Dillard 12-27, Thomas 5-25, K. White 6-14, Gammage 1-6, Porter 3-34, Werbelow 1-7. MP – Stephens 11-83, Hodge 8-94, Woodberry 5-84, Brooks 4-10.


    DV – Thomas 20-32-0-246, Gammage 0-0-1-0. MP – Grover 8-9-0-124.


    DV – J. White 4-44, K. White 6-64, Dillard 4-50, Stagg 3-78, Porter 1-(-)4, Werbelow 1-6, Garcia 1-6.

    Missed FG

    MP-Abercrombie (39).


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    Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2016 8:20 pm

    Playing in Tukee Bowl links individuals for years to come

    The culmination of the 20th annual Ahwatukee Bowl will happen somewhere around 9:30 p.m. Friday at Karl Kiefer Stadium.

    Afterward the two teams will shake hands and separate to opposite ends of the field. But no matter what happens, the two teams will be forever linked.

    Rivalry games just have a way of creating signature plays that will always be remembered. Or they produce a player or two who did something that will be forever etched into the memory of that year’s game.

    So the 2016 game is here, with nationally-ranked Mountain Pointe High—the consensus No. 1 team in Arizona—hosting Desert Vista High at 7 p.m. in front of what is expected to be a capacity crowd.

    The 5-0 Pride come in as the heavy favorite against the 2-3 Thunder.

    But, as it has been proven time and again, it means nothing once the ball is put in play. Turnovers, time of possession and touchdowns decide games, not perception.

    “No one is picking us to win, but we have a good game plan and have four great days of practice to be ready as we can be,” Desert Vista senior linebacker Chad Porter said. “We’re not thinking about how they are nationally ranked. We are looking at the film and take it like they are any other team.

    “We are not scared of Mountain Pointe or star struck because they are ranked,” he added. “That doesn’t faze us. We are ready to go to work.”

    Desert Vista went to work in the final quarter of last week’s stirring 31-27 comeback win over previously undefeated Dobson. Otherwise, the Thunder’s season would have been close to circling the drain.

    Instead, the team enters the game against its neighborhood rival energized by the fact it was able to pull out a win even though two of the previous three defeats came in overtime and in the final minute of regulation.

    “We’ve been playing good until we shot ourselves in the foot at the end of games,” Desert Vista quarterback Nick Thomas said. “Now we know we can win those types of games.”

    The Thunder defense has allowed several big plays, and will be without junior starting defensive back Garrett Chavez (broken leg). But it will gain Valley Christian transfer Alijah Gammage, who could see action on both sides of the ball after he sat out the mandatory 50 percent of the regular season.

    No matter how the new lineup shakes out, it is clear Desert Vista cannot let the Pride run wild as it has thus far this season in averaging 52.4 points a game.

    “They have some big playmakers, and a big line, with a lot of talent on offense,” Porter said. “Every team makes mistakes and we are going to go out there and do our best to force them into some (mistakes).”

    The Thunder offense revolves around the big three of senior running back Lelon Dillard, slot receiver Keishaud White and Thomas. But it has additional weapons as well that have given Desert Vista a quick-scoring ability.

    The Pride defense, which will be bolstered this week with the addition of cornerback Donte Lindsey after his transfer from Cesar Chavez, has been pretty stingy this year.

    Mountain Pointe faced it first deficit early on against Pinnacle last week when the Pioneers scored three times in the first half.

    “We expected to run over them and played down in the first half,” junior safety Kenny Churchwell said. “We know we are going to get everyone’s best shot and we can’t let that happen again.”

    The Pride offense hasn’t let up at all with 30 touchdowns in five games.

    Junior running back Gary Bragg, who left last week’s game on crutches, and availability is unknown, junior wide receiver Jaydon Brooks, senior wide receiver Isaiah Pola-Mao have done most of the damage behind an offensive line with interchangeable parts and steady quarterback play from Noah Grover.

    “I haven’t lost to DV and I want to keep it that way,” Pola-Mao said. “In the big picture it is just another game, but it is our neighborhood rivalry and it can be emotional if you let it.”

    – Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

    – Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.


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    QBs for both teams have the moxie to play the position

    Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2016 8:12 am | Updated: 10:41 am, Thu Sep 29, 2016.

    The position requires intelligence, poise, solid decision-making and respect of the team.

    Quarterbacking ain’t easy.

    The most important trait of a quarterback probably has nothing to do with what he does on the field, but how he carries himself and the confidence he exudes regardless of the situation or the magnitude of the game.

    “They have to be vocal and will go the extra mile,” said Brent Miller, a former Desert Vista High quarterback and current Thunder offensive coordinator. “They have to be able to call guys out. He’s gotta have that chip on his shoulder.”

    The Ahwatukee Bowl has seen some good quarterbacks over the years and the 2016 duo certainly have some flare and brashness.

    It was pretty evident Monday when Mountain Pointe quarterback Noah Grover showed up in a baby blue onesie on pajama day for the beginning of the Pride’s spirit week while Desert Vista’s Nick Thomas sported gold Under Armour high tops.

    They don’t mind all eyes on them. And at the half-way point of the season, both have played at high level heading into Friday’s game.

    Grover, a first-year starter, has led the Pride, which averages 52.4 points a game, to a 5-0 record while completing 65 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in a pro-style offense.

    “I am making reads on the field with much more confidence,” Grover said. “Making reads in the practice compared to games is 10 times different between the level of play and the speed of the play.”

    Grover, who averages 19.1 yards per completion, has been in the program all four years knowing one day he’d be the guy the other 10 guys in the huddle turn to when the game is on the line.

    “You have to be able to take the pressure that is on you,” he said. “And you have to take the coaching stress level, especially from Coach (Norris) Vaughan, and let it help mold you.”

    Thomas, who started eight games last season, is more of a dual threat in the Thunder’s spread-read option. He leads the team with 400 yards rushing with five touchdowns, completing 59 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and three interceptions.

    “Nick is playing way above what our expectations were,” Miller said. “He’s had a great first half of the year. His leadership and football IQ are way above average.”

    The play on the field has only enhanced their confidence level as they prepare to play in this year’s neighborhood rivalry game, but the personality it takes to play the position has to be innate to start and developed over the years.

    “It is definitely something that comes natural,” Thomas said. “I think you are born with leadership abilities, but there are things I’ve had to learn to help make me the leader I am. When you are tested is when you find out what kind of leader you really are.”

    And Thomas has been tested this year.

    There have been times when late-game breakdowns, some directly Thomas’ doing and others not, have caused the Thunder to lose late. It’s the kind of thing that can wear a player down, especially one as competitive as Thomas.

    “There are some plays that really hurt us, but as much as you hate it and it bothers you, you know there is another chance coming,” he said. “You learn from it and move on. If you let it get to you then you start trying to hard or something like that.”

    That’s why the next play call has to come with the same tone and encouragement as the first play of the game.

    “I always try to say something like ‘We are about to get this right here’ and then give the play,” Thomas said. “You have to show them you are confident in whatever the play is because they pick up on that if you feel like it isn’t the right call.”

    Grover said he also is always doing his best to not only to deliver the play, but the right message as well.

    “You want to motivate at the same time,” Grover said. “Part of the responsibility of a quarterback is to make sure the team is on the right track and ready to perform.”

    – Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

    – Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.


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    Tukee Bowl far from oldest rivalry in Arizona

    Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2016 11:06 am

    The Ahwatukee Bowl has had some history, long-lasting images and plenty of stars over the last two decades.

    The intensity compares to that of other rivalries in Arizona, but it pales in comparison to some of the series from around the state when it comes to history.

    Bisbee and Douglas high schools, which was played in week one of this season, dates back to 1906. They compete in the “Copper Pick” game, considered one of the oldest football rivalries in the country.

    St. Johns and Round Valley high schools will meet up on Oct. 28 to close out the regular season.

    This game is believed to be longest continuous rivalry in Arizona and has plenty of color, as in black, over the years.

    In the 1980s, someone from Round Valley sent black roses to the St. Johns secretary; the latter responded by spray-painting “SJ” in black on the field.

    There was a time where Mesa-Mountain View high schools clashed in a game as bitter as it could get.

    “We hated each other,” said former Mesa coach Jim Rattay of the Mountain View game. “It could get ugly. When we came to Mesa (from Ohio) we got stomped by Jesse Parker at Mountain View and Jerry Loper at Westwood. I figured out very quickly that if we were going to do anything in this state, we were going to have start winning those regional rivalry games.”

    Brophy versus St. Mary’s always caught the attention of the whole Valley, but Peoria-Cactus high school football ruled the West Valley

    Globe and Miami high schools celebrated their 100th meeting in 2014. That game between two mining towns always had a family-vs.-family feel. It is known as the “Copper Kettle” Game.

    The Tucson area has Sabino-Sahuaro, Canyon del Oro-Ironwood Ridge, Sunnyside-Tucson, Marana-Mountain View and others considered among the more passionate series.

    In the White Mountains, the showdown between Blue Ridge and Show Low high schools is a tough one to get tickets for every year.

    Locally, Chandler-Hamilton, Marcos de Niza-Corona del Sol, Williams Field-Queen Creek, Tempe-McClintock, Perry-Basha, and Gilbert-Highland are some of the games that are more than just part of the regular season.


    – Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

    – Check us out and like the East Valley Tribune on Facebook and follow @VarsityXtra on Twitter.


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    Ahwatukee Bowl unites and separates community at the same time

    Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2016 10:11 am | Updated: 10:44 am, Thu Sep 29, 2016.

    It is that time of the year when every issue in this tight-knit and passionate community fades to the background.

    Freeway debates, water issues and golf course transformations will be back in the forefront soon enough, but this week it is all about what is going down on Friday night.

    It is the 20th annual Ahwatukee Bowl.

    The football game came soon after the birth of a second high school when the sprawling foothills community behind South Mountain kept expanding down to Pecos Road and westward beyond 17th Avenue.

    In 1995, Desert Vista High opened its doors 4.3 miles from entrenched Mountain Pointe High; by 1997, their football programs were squaring off once a year.

    “We were perfectly happy being the only school,” former Pride coach Karl Kiefer recalled. “When they opened up, it became us against them right away.”

    That became pretty clear the week leading up to the first Ahwatukee Bowl, if legend is to be believed: It has been said the morning announcements each day at Mountain Pointe focused on firing up the student body and players.

    “What happened was they made a big deal about it, and got on the PA every day yelling about beating us,” said former Desert Vista coach Jim Rattay, who is still on the sidelines at Cesar Chavez.

    “They fired up the kids; they got all crazy and wild,” he recalled. “They kicked our butts and tore down our goal post.”

    The years after that, however, slanted heavily toward Desert Vista as the Thunder quickly became a state power and won the state title in 1998 with an undefeated season.

    “I’ve coached in some big rivalries going back to my Ohio days, and then when I got to Mesa, there was the Mountain View game. But this one was just as big as any of them,” Rattay said, adding:

    “I took a page out of (the late Ohio State University coach) Woody Hayes and how he always said ‘the team up north’ instead of ‘Michigan.’ Mountain Pointe was always ‘the team up north.’

    The game has had its ebbs and flows over the years. Desert Vista (2-3) leads the all-time series 10-9 heading into the 7 p.m. kickoff at Mountain Pointe’s Karl Kiefer Stadium.

    It means top-ranked Mountain Pointe (5-0) has a chance to even the all-time win-loss ratio this year. A victory would give the Pride a chance to continue chanting, “We run Tukee.”

    That’s become tradition with the Pride, who have won six of the last seven Ahwatukee Bowl games and who hope to keep their good streak going.

    The game doesn’t quite shut down the community, as some games do across the country. But a good 10,000 fans are expected at a game that means a heck of a lot in the hallways, locker rooms and even some of the local establishments.

    “Family and friends from the entire community come out with a competitive spirit but a lot of love,” said Moses Sanchez, whose three kids attended Desert Vista.

    Sanchez, the Tempe Union High School Governing Board member, added:

    “That’s what the Tukee Bowl brings out in us: internal struggle, battle, spirit, energy, respect for each other. I love the Tukee Bowl and everything it stands for.”

    The bragging rights that come with winning the Tukee Bowl spill into the other sports.

    That’s especially the case with boys’ basketball, when the two schools meet and the chants across the gym between the two student sections inevitably turn to something about winning the Tukee Bowl.

    Other than participating in a state championship game, which has happened five times (three for Desert Vista, two for Mountain Pointe) in 19 years, this is the game that players will remember most from their careers.

    It is the game that is recalled at reunions and chance meetings for years afterward.

    “It meant everything to me,” Mountain Pointe 2016 graduate Ralph Roman said. “Going into a season looking at the schedule and you see your rivalry school, you just get that feeling. I felt that out of all the regular season, that game had the most meaning because it was for more than just adding a win to your record, but you felt as if you owed it to Ahwatukee.”

    – Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

    – Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.


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