The embodiment of Mountain Pointe football – physical, athletic and relentless – was helped off the field.
It was the first vulnerable moment of the 2013 season.
The team was trailing for the first time all season while Wesley Payne was on his way to have his dislocated elbow popped back in and the Pride was facing what was supposed to be their first test in a month on the road at Austin Field against Chandler.
Instead of being affected, nationally-ranked Mountain Pointe took over the game and played for its fallen leader in a 38-14 pounding of No. 5 Chandler on Friday.
“We knew we had to step up and play for Wesley,” junior linebacker Austin Cronen said. “He is a great player, but one player doesn’t make a team. We still had a lot of work to do.”
Shortly after Payne, who could be back this year if there isn’t any ligament damage, left the stadium Pride quarterback Antonio Hinojosa hit Emmanuel Butler on a jump ball to tie the game at 7 after the drive was extended by a roughing the passer and personal foul face mask.
The Mountain Pointe (5-0) defense forced a three-and-out on the Wolves’ next drive and Mitchell Fraboni blocked his first of two consecutive punts by Daniel Lubitz.
Hinojosa scored on a 5-yard scramble to make it 14-7 and Fraboni’s second blocked punt to set up another short scoring drive as Brandyn Leonard made it 21-7 on a 3-yard run with 9:30 remaining in the second quarter.
After another Chandler (2-2) miscue – a Dionte Sykes fumble inside the Pride 10-yard line – allowed Mountain Pointe to tack on another score before the half, keyed by a 33-yard pass to Jalen Brown, when Leonard’s second of three touchdowns went for 20 yards.
With Payne out his replacements, Leonard on offense and Keondre Churchwell on defense, came up big as Mountain Pointe prepares for next week’s showdown with defending-state champion Hamilton (4-0).
Leonard, who missed most of last year on JV with a concussion, had 23 carries for 180 yards to pace a running game that approached 300 yards – 295 on 47 carries unofficially – in manhandling the Wolves upfront.
“We kept coming at them,” Leonard said. “We could feel the momentum and the offensive line was winning all of the battles.”
Churchwell came in to take over the spot vacated by Cronen, who moved to Payne’s inside linebacker position. He got an interception inside the Pride’s 10-yard line on Chandler’s first possession of the second half to essentially end any chance the Wolves had of coming back.
“Wesley taught me everything I know about football,” Churchwell said. “I knew I had to step in and play at his level. It was emotional to see him get hurt, but we all stepped up.”
Meanwhile Chandler (3-1) seemingly stepped in mud all night long. Two blocked punts in the early going, two fumbles and an interception and a defense that rarely had any stops was too much to overcome.
“We can’t do that,” Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said. “It looked like we were a little sluggish from last week (traveling and playing in California on Saturday). They played well and kicked our butts tonight.
“I was a little concerned with our lack of focus, our lack of energy, but that’s not to take anything away from them.”
The defense as a whole played a terrific game, bottling up the Chandler dynamic duo of quarterback Bryce Perkins and running back Chase Lucas, while the Wolves horizontal passing game didn’t have much a of chance against the Pride’s defensive speed.
“It was a great team effort,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “We had some things, like the early interception (that led to Chandler’s 7-0 lead) and Wesley Payne getting hurt, that could have stuck with us but this team just shook it off and kept its composure.”
Mountain Pointe 38, Chandler 14
First downs: MP 24, C: 15
Rushing: MP 47-295, C: 18-109
Passing: MP 7-13-138-1, C: 11-16-86-1
Penalties: MP 9-85, C 4-45
Fumbles-lost: MP 0-0, C: 2-2
MP 14 14 3 7 - 38
Chandler 7 0 0 7 – 14
C – Lucas 22 pass from Perkins (Lucero kick), 9:20
MP – Butler 8 pass from Hinojosa (Sheehan kick), 5:09
MP – Hinojosa 5 run (Sheehan kick), 1:44
MP – Leonard 3 run (Sheehan kick), 9:30
MP – Leonard 20 run (Sheehan kick), 4:53
MP – Sheehan 24 field, 2:43
MP – Leonard 4 run (Sheehan kick), 11:49
MP – Perkins 5 run (Lucero kick), 7:06
MP – Leonard 23-180, Lucas 14-71, Payne 6-23, Hernandez 1-10, Townsend 2-6, Hinojosa 1-5. Chandler – Perkins 11-52, Lucas 9-34, E. Sykes 2-(-1), Culbreath 1-2, Moran 1-3, Flanigan 1-12, Ware 1-2.
MP – Hinojosa 7-13-1-138. Chandler – Perkins 11-16-1-86.
MP – Brown 3-77, Hernandez 2-38, Butler 2-23. Chandler – D. Sykes 2-7, E. Sykes 1-2, Lucas 4-46, McCully 2-21, Culbreath 1-3.
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkodaAFN@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.