A year ago on Arizona high school football’s biggest stage, Mountain Pointe quarterback Antonio Hinojosa wanted to get away.
This time, on the same field and spotlight, he didn’t want to leave.
After a three-interception, 37-percent success rate (7 of 18) in the 2012 Division I state championship loss to Hamilton, Hinojosa – with several of the same playmakers around him – was arguably the MVP of Mountain Pointe’s 42-19 win over the Huskies in the state championship game on Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Flanked by a running game led by Paul Lucas (159 yards and a touchdown), Hinojosa found Timmy Hernandez (five receptions for 142 yards), Emmanuel Butler (4 rec., 106 yards, TD) and Jalen Brown with efficiency. Hinojosa capped a stellar season with a stellar championship night: 10 of 15 passing for 250 yards, including a pivotal 34-yard touchdown pass to Butler on a jump-ball with seven seconds left in the first half to give the Pride a 21-7 halftime lead.
He also ran the ball eight times for 20 yards and a second-quarter touchdown in which he broke a tackle and dove to the corner pylon a few minutes before his touchdown pass.
Most importantly for the Pride: zero turnovers.
Four of Hinojosa’s passes went for at least 35 yards, often after scrambling out of the pocket to buy his receivers extra time.
“I just made my reads and after a few seconds would start moving around because their (defensive line) is really good, and I didn’t think I’d have much time,” Hinojosa said. “All I had to do was give our guys a couple more seconds to get open. It’s really hard to defend (Butler), Jalen and Timmy at the same time, especially when I start moving around.”
In a freak play, a Hamilton defender accidently rolled up on Mountain Pointe starting guard Clayton Dry’s foot, and, with a high ankle sprain, his day was done. Bruce Hester replaced Dry in the lineup for the final three quarters.
Stuck watching the rest while on crutches, Dry admitted he had a difficult time focusing on his teammates at times while stuck on the sidelines. But he remembered his hometown of Rawlins, Wyoming, and how the local high school had won once in a four-year period.
“I’m kind of speechless, but I’ll take this (crutches) any day for that ring,” he said afterward while slowly working his way to the locker room, well behind his teammates. “It sucks really bad, but you put your body in harm’s way for the team, and I did what I knew was best for us and my boys.”
Once Mountain Pointe began to successfully run the ball early in the second quarter, the Pride dug into their bag of tricks with a halfback pass from Payne to Brown for a 47-yard touchdown, in which Payne’s heave hit Brown in perfect stride near the sideline.
After the game, Brown – who scored his 50th career touchdown in Saturday’s win – said the Pride had worked on the play in practice but hadn’t used it in a game this season.
“We talked all week about not giving up big plays early,” Hamilton defensive coordinator Lane Reynolds said. “We held up pretty well up front but those big passing plays hurt us.”
How the ball bounces
Twice on Saturday, a free ball went Mountain Pointe’s way, and both could have been pivotal in the final outcome.
The first came with the score tied 7-7 in the second quarter, on what appeared to be a Pride fumble while driving down the field. The officials ruled Mountain Pointe’s runner was down by contact, and Hamilton’s sideline was up-in-arms. The Pride scored shortly thereafter to make it 14-7.
The second came late in the third quarter when the Pride fumbled but the ball rolled out of bounds. Again, the Pride scored shortly thereafter to make it 28-13.
Since 2000, Hamilton has made 11 state title game appearances in 14 seasons, either in Div. I, Class 5A-I or Class 5A, with only 2007, 2002 and 2000 as year Hamilton was left out. The Huskies are now 8-3 all-time in championship games. … The Huskies ran three offensive plays and held the ball for 52 seconds in the third quarter, yet scored the only points in the quarter on Morris Kroma’s 84-yard punt return for a touchdown. … Mountain Pointe racked up 508 yards of total offense (243 rushing, 297 passing), held the ball for 30 minutes and converted 9 of 13 third downs into first downs. … Hamilton senior Josiah Pola might have had the best day of any Huskies player. He made nine tackles at defensive back, and twice his punts – along with Hamilton’s coverage – pinned Mountain Pointe at its own 1-yard line. … After missing the semifinal victory against Chandler because of gout, Hamilton standout defensive end Qualen Cunningham returned to action in the championship game. Huskies coach Steve Belles said some medication prescribed last weekend helped Cunningham, who recorded a sack and at least two other tackles for loss in the game. … Hamilton’s 11-3 overall record marks the first time in school history the Huskies lost three games in one season. … Dating back to his coaching days in Georgia, Pride coach Norris Vaughan has won state titles in football, basketball and baseball.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.