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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

     

    Marshawn Gibson marches down the field to start the fourth quarter against the Chandler Wolves.  [Photo courtesy of MP Football Facebook]

    Pride, Thunder both take to the road Friday after big wins

    By Greg Macafee, AFN Sports Editor  |  

    The tough competition doesn’t stop with last weekend’s defeat of Chandler High as Mountain Pointe High will see where it stands against the Arizona’s top football talent in the coming weeks.

    This week, the Pride will hit the road for the third straight week, taking on Mesa Mountain View (2-1).

    The Toros are 1-0 at home this year, defeating Corona del Sol (1-3) 35-18. They are led by Mike Fell, who won his 200th career game in the season opening victory over Valley Vista.

    Friday night will bring a matchup between two experienced head coaches and several talented players.

    Mountain Pointe will have the task of locking up the quarterback-receiver tandem of Brandon Nunez and Jacobby Dinwiddie. The pair has hooked up for 283 passing yards and one touchdown so far in 2017. As a sophomore, Dinwiddie was a huge part of the Toros offense, catching 70 passes for 1,012 yards and six touchdowns.

    Look for a talented secondary, led by Pride seniors Kenny Churchwell, Delano Salgado, Tyre Johnson and Marshawn Gibson to lock down the pair through the air.

    On the ground, the Toros have been led by senior tailback Dean Yamada who has tallied 198 yards on 40 carries.

    Mountain Pointe also will have to be on the lookout for the running ability of Nunez. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound quarterback has scampered for 63 yards this season, but he showed off his legs in the red zone against Valley Vista, finding the end zone twice.   

    If Pride secondary can contain the duo of Nunez and Dinwiddie, the talented trio of running backs from Mountain Pointe should have the opportunity to control the pace of the game like they have all season long.

    It’s been a staple of their offense since their first game, when senior Gary Bragg returned from an ACL injury last season with a 131-yard, three-touchdown performance against Sandra Day O’Connor.

    Against Chaminade, a top-10 school in California, Bragg was locked up for just 45 yards on 10 carries. But, junior running back Jakim McKinney made his presence known, rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns.

    Another important aspect of Mountain Pointe’s matchup with Mountain View will be the play of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt.

    With a stout running game behind him and a big offensive line in front of him, the Pride signal-caller has been able to manage games. He has made throws when he has needed to, but also has used his feet when given the opportunity.

    His three-yard quarterback keeper against Chandler put the Pride ahead and they never looked back.  

    With a big redemption win over the state champions, the Pride look to be back to form after a tough loss against Chaminade. It still has a tough schedule ahead as Pinnacle and the Ahwatukee bowl both await in the weeks ahead.

    Desert Vista vs. Brophy Prep

    Desert Vista High School (2-1) made it two wins in a row on Friday with a 44-13 win over Mesa Skyline and this week it will look to make it three as they travel to Brophy Prep (1-3) to take on the Broncos.  

    Brophy Prep fell to undefeated Highland this past Friday 14-6 in another close contest, a recurring theme for the Broncos. They squeaked out a 28-27 win against Westview and fell to Desert Ridge by nine points.

    While their record may not show it, the Broncos boast a talented roster full of playmakers that head coach Daniel Hinds and his team will have to be on the lookout for. The talent of the Broncos starts in the backfield with quarterback Noah Gonzales.

    The 6-foot-2 gunslinger has completed 50 percent of his passes in 2017 for 735 yards and five touchdowns. His only game without 200-plus passing yards came in their season opening loss to Pinnacle.

    In his first season under center, Gonzales has found two favorite targets in seniors Xavier Juniel and senior Donovan Arthur. The two receivers have combined for 374 yards and three touchdowns in four games.

    But he has also struggled at times, throwing three interceptions in the game against Highland.

    This is an area of the game that a strong Desert Vista secondary could take advantage of as the combination of James Stagg, Caleb Humphrey and Larry Davis should stymie the Brophy running game. In both of Desert Vista’s victories season, they have held opponents below 200 rushing yards.

    Offensively, the Thunder will look to continue to keep up their high scoring efforts as they are clicking in both the passing and running game.

    Since throwing two interceptions against Perry, quarterback Derek Kline has been big for the Thunder. He’s completed over 60 percent of his passes in the past two games and he’s also thrown for seven touchdowns.

    That streak should continue against Brophy if the Thunder can avoid turning the ball over, which they have done in the past two games other than a lone fumble against Basha.

    Along with Kline, look for senior Keishaud White to have a big impact in their fourth game of the season. He has scored in all three games, both through the air and on the ground. But on Friday he added another facet to his scoring repertoire against Skyline, returning a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.

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

     

    Tyre Johnson carries the ball against Chandler Friday night at Austin Field.  |  Photo by Kimberly Carrillo

    Mountain Pointe avenges state title loss, upsets Chandler on the road

    By Eddie Poe AFN Contributor

    From the start, you could tell it weighed heavy on their minds.

    After falling in last year’s 6A state championship to Chandler, Mountain Pointe found the best type of redemption on Friday night — knocking off the No.1 team in the state on their own turf.

    With a three-headed backfield controlling the running game early on, junior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt remained poised behind a stout offensive line as No. 2 Mountain Pointe stunned No.1 Chandler 24-21 on Friday night at Austin Field.

    “I’m so proud of these boys, each and every one of them,” coach Norris Vaughan said.

    As he shook hands and received congratulatory hugs from his coaching staff following the game, Vaughan yelled, “This ain’t us!”

    He was referring to last week’s game against national power Chaminade Prep (Mission Viejo, Calif.) in which the Pride were unable to overcome a slew of mistakes en route to a loss.

    A different Mountain Pointe team showed up on Friday night though.

    Just before the end of the first quarter, the Pride (2-1) got things started when Wallerstedt took a keeper in from three yards out. Ten seconds later, Jacob Olsen recovered a fumble by Chandler and ran it in from 12 yards out to give the Pride a 14-0 lead.

    On their first drive of the second quarter, Chandler made another costly mistake. The punter was unable to kick the ball away after a high snap and the Pride were gifted the ball on Chandler’s 17-yard line.

    A few plays later, Jakim McKinney ran in it from two yards out and there was utter silence from the Chandler faithful. 

    “That early momentum carried us,” Wallerstedt said. “It was exactly what we needed.”

    Chandler (2-2) didn’t just fall back and fold. After four failed drives to start the game, backup quarterback Billy Bolger (replacing the injured Jacob Conover) began finding seams and the offense received some help in the form of a roughing the passer penalty. 

    After a run that put them in the red zone was called back on a holding penalty, the Wolves eventually got on the board on a DeCarlos Brooks touchdown run with 4:37 remaining in the half.

    For nearly the entire third quarter, both offenses stalled, unable to move the ball down the field. Driving towards the end of the quarter, Bolger found a receiver open across the middle and he took it 36 yards for a touchdown to cut Mountain Pointe’s lead to 21-14 as the third quarter ended.

    Wallerstedt and Mountain Pointe’s backfield trio — Gary Bragg, Delano Salgado, and Marshawn Gibson — wore the Chandler defense down as they marched down the field to start the fourth quarter. Taking nearly seven minutes off the clock, Ben Abercrombie capped off the drive with a 16-yard field goal to give the Pride a 24-14 lead with five and half minutes remaining. 

    Bolger and the Wolves didn’t feel the pressure though as they answered with a score of their own, running in a short touchdown to cut the lead back to 24-21 with just under three minutes to go. 

    Then, on a handoff out left, the ball fell from Bragg’s hands as he turned up field and the Wolves recovered the fumble. The home crowd was the loudest it had been all game long, while the visiting Mountain Pointe fans were in utter shock. 

    Just like a strong team does, the defense picked up the mistake made by the offense. On fourth down and the game on the line, Bolger’s pass was tipped up in the air and Salgado secured it to seal the victory. 

    On the ground, the Pride ran for an even 200 yards while Wallerstedt accounted for 79 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

    “We’re still finding out who we are,” Vaughan said. “But this game helps us in the direction of finding it.”

    Mountain Pointe will continue their season on the road next week as they travel to Mesa Mountain View.