The Thunder’s Matt Lewis kicks off during his team’s contest last week with Gilbert High.
Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Photographer

When it came down to it, Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools’ varsity football teams didn’t put together their best performances, but both escaped with late victories Friday.

And with three games remaining in the season, both teams will finish out their seasons with regional opponents as they vie for the top spot in the 6A Central region.

Mountain Pointe vs Desert Ridge

The Pride will have another tough challenge ahead as it takes on No. 4-ranked Desert Ridge High, which earned its fourth row in a win on Friday with a 34-14 win over Corona del Sol.

This 6A top-10 matchup could be a high-scoring affair as both teams can put the ball in the end zone on the ground or through the air.

The Jaguars have scored a total of 303 points in seven games this season, including 63 and 68-point outbursts against Desert Mountain and Gilbert, respectively, before the matchup with Corona del Sol.  

This season, the Jaguars have been led by a group of running backs that have been the highlight of a young offense.

Tyrese Allen has been the lead back, breaking off multiple 100-yard games, including a 132-yard, three-touchdown performance against Desert Mountain. But this week, the Jaguars will run into a strong defensive front that has held running backs to a minimum all season long.

That effort starts with Mountain Pointe defensive lineman Shomari Hayes up front. The senior has racked up 6.5 sacks and 46 tackles on the season. But, he also has opened opportunities for his teammates to contribute in the defensive front as well.

Senior Tyre Johnson has been stellar off the edge, with a team high 48 tackles. Junior Kenneth Lofton is tied with Hayes with 6.5 sacks.  These three will have a big role in stopping the Desert Ridge running game, but look for senior linebacker Jacob Olsen to play a big role as well.

As it has all season, the Mountain Pointe secondary could cause problems as well if the front seven can stymie a strong Desert Ridge running game. The players have been forces all season long and are one of the top strengths of the squad led by head coach Norris Vaughan.

The offensive game plan hasn’t changed for the Pride: Feed the ball to the running backs and throw it when necessary. Quarterback Nick Wallerstedt has been the key to this offense.

He’s been effective in managing games and when he has needed to, he has used his legs, which are probably his most effective asset. But, the 6-foot-3 quarterback can still sling the pigskin, averaging 103 yards a game this season.

The Mountain Pointe offense will run into a Jaguars defense led by junior safety Koa Tuipala and senior linebacker Desha Bennet. Both have 30-plus tackles on the season, and through five games, Bennet has sacked opposing quarterbacks six times.

The Jaguars defense has only allowed 168 points this season and many of those points came in two separate matchups – including 52 against one of the highest scoring offenses in Hamilton High. Three weeks later, Gilbert put up 47 points against the Jaguars behind a 311-yard passing performance.

The two teams face off on Thursday at Mountain Pointe High School at 7 p.m.

Desert Vista vs. Highland

With multiple injuries to key skill players, the Thunder gutted out the victory over Gilbert High, thanks to great performances from players filling in in key places.

This Friday, the Thunder will look to hand Highland its third consecutive loss. Look for a battle between two strong defenses. Both teams have shown time and time again, they have the ability to shut opposing offenses down.

The Thunder defense has been led by the efforts of senior linebacker Larry Davis and senior lineman Caleb Humphrey. The two have been a force in the front seven for the Thunder, but they will have a tall task ahead of them against a run-heavy Highland team led by running backs Jacob Wood and Kohner Cullimore.

While Wood has excelled in the open field, Cullimore has been the workhorse in the redzone. Both backs are downhill type runners and will need to be contained throughout the game.

If the Thunder can stymie the run, the Hawks have struggled in the pass game this season. That could give a strong Thunder secondary a chance to excel if Highland resorts to an air attack.

In limiting the Mountain Point offense to just 14 points, Highland showed the ability to at least stymie one of the best rushing attacks in the state. But, all season long Thunder quarterback Derek Kline has shown his talents as a dual-threat quarterback, which could be a key to the Desert Vista offense’s matchup with Highland.

Kline will have to be on the lookout for both Wood and Cullimore on the defensive side as well, but senior linebacker Tate Stevens has been a problem for opposing teams as well.

In Highland’s secondary, defensive back Jalen Johnson has shown his ability to shut down opposing receivers. The key for Kline will be his use of Navy commit James Stagg in the passing game.

He has shown his trust in Stagg throughout the season, finding him in tight spots over the middle of the field. Look for sophomore Tyson Grubbs to influence this 6A top 10 matchup as well, both in the running game and passing game.

The two teams face off at Highland at 7 p.m. on Friday.

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