When Mountain Pointe knocked off Hamilton, head coach Norris Vaughan did a few shoulder blocks during the celebration with defensive coordinator Jeff Decker, who is a well-built but average sized man.
On Friday night someone bigger came looking for him, and his team.
Both were up to the test.
As Vaughan explained how Mountain Pointe turned Division I upside down in a matter of three weeks, it was Bruce Kipper, the 6-foot-6 and 265-pound school principal, who just about flattened the unsuspecting Vaughan.
“That hurt,” Vaughan said, stretching out his shoulder.
It was about the only thing that stung the 3-0 Pride, who showed resiliency, restraint and respect in a tough fought 23-21 win over uncharacteristically clumsy Desert Vista – knocking off the defending state champion Thunder last night just two weeks after defeating Hamilton, the premiere program in Division I.
“I’ve won a lot of big games, not because of me, but because of the kids, and this one as far as the regular season goes is pretty big,” Vaughan said. “We’ve been to the state semifinals my first two years and had a winning season last year. We’re doing pretty good, but this is too early to play a game of this magnitude.
“We’ll enjoy it and get ready for our next challenge.”
Both teams overcame some challenges in the 16th Ahwatukee Bowl after a tremendous first half that ended in a 21-21 tie. But it was the defenses that took over in the second half.
The Thunder (2-1) lost their top running back in Jarek Hilgers, who was taken to the hospital after a second quarter play where he lost his helmet and play wasn’t stopped before being tackled. He was hit flush by a Mountain Pointe defender and required stitches before being taken to the hospital for observation for a concussion.
It hurt the Desert Vista running game, but not as much as the fumbles his replacements let get away. The Thunder, who had seven fumbles in the Sollenberger Classic but lost only three, fumbled three more times Friday, and all three cut deep.
After Mountain Pointe took the lead 23-21 on a safety when Landry Payne tackled Thunder punter Connor Dols in the end zone after a high snap, Desert Vista set up shop on the Mountain Pointe 18-yard line after the Pride muffed a punt.
Five plays later, junior running back Isaiah Kilby fumbled into the Pride end zone and Mountain Pointe’s Jimmy Holtrop recovered for the touchback.
Then with three minutes left in the game, Desert Vista quarterback Matt Young and Zach Gonzalez had a bad exchange on the Pride 12-yard line as senior linebacker Aaron Blank recovered at the Pride 10.
Mountain Pointe couldn’t run out the clock and was forced to punt with less than a minute left, but Desert Vista senior Nick Farina muffed the pint.
“We gave up the ball twice in the red zone twice,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. “You can’t do that against a good team like that.”
While Desert Vista made some mistakes, the Mountain Pointe defense once again came up big and got a second half shutout just as it did against Hamilton.
The front seven, led by Kenny Lacy, Natrell Curtis, Blank, Charlie Trevino, and the Payne brothers – Wesley and Landry) – held up well against one of the state’s best offensive lines.
“Our defense has proved it is tough enough,” junior Wesley Payne said. “We moved our linebackers on the guard. (Hilgers) is a tough player and we knew could cheat on some plays because he wasn’t back there.”
The first half was a lot different as both offenses had a much easier time moving the ball.
Pride quarterback Antonio Hinojosa (9 of 17 for 144 yards with one touchdown) completed his first eight passes to open up running lanes that senior running back Thomas Warren took advantage of, ripping off touchdown runs of 44 and 28 yards – the second of which tied it at 21 with 2:24 left in the half – on his way to 140 yards on 12 carries.
“I got a lot of chances and took advantage of it,” said Warren, who used a monster stiff arm to free himself on the first touchdown. “The passing game opened some running lanes and we took advantage.”
The Thunder’s first play from scrimmage was a 69-yard up-the-gut run by Hilgers (7 carries, 98 yards) when the Pride defense over pursued the fly to Kaleb Germinaro.
Desert Vista probably should have had 14 more points, but was hampered by the costly mistakes.
“It was a great learning experience,” Hinds said. “We got to come back and not let injuries affect us. When you are not used to turning the ball over it is hard. You learn more from a loss and we will get better.”
The Pride, whose student body once again charged the field about an hour after a streaker made a clean getaway, really could not have asked for a better three weeks to start the season.
“This was big win and we run ’Tukee,” Curtis said. “I knew we had it the whole way, but we have to come back focused just like we did after we beat Hamilton. If we stay focused and stay together we can do something special.”
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