Mountain Pointe’s Gary Bragg breaks a tackle as he powers his way toward the Pride’s third touchdown.
Cheryl Haselhorst/AFN Contributor

As everyone expected, No. 1 Mountain Pointe High School breezed by No. 16 Cibola High Friday night to advance to the second round of the 6A state playoffs.

The Pride jumped out to a quick lead and built a 37-0 lead before the half ended. At the final whistle, the Pride held 65-0 lead and began looking to their next matchup as they attempt to return to the state championship for the second straight year.

To accomplish that goal, the Pride will have to get through a familiar foe, a team that pushed them to the brink earlier this year.

Back on Oct. 6, Mountain Pointe (9-2) committed a trio of first-quarter turnovers that allowed the Highland High Hawks (8-3) to build a 13-0 first-half lead.

But the Pride team that came out of the locker room at halftime looked like a completely different squad.

Behind a Delano Salgado 37-yard touchdown run and a Gary Bragg one-yard touchdown run, the Pride stormed back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. They also held the Hawks scoreless in the second half and escaped with a 14-13 win.

This time around, things might be a little different.

One big factor of the first meeting was Mountain Pointe’s slow start. Turning the ball over three times can often lead to a large deficit that some teams don’t have the ability to overcome.

Also, Mountain Pointe quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, who threw one interception and fumbled twice in the first matchup, has grown as both a player and a passer since that game.

The junior gunslinger threw for only 41 yards in that game and since then has yet to throw under 100 yards. He threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns on Friday against Cibola.

One player that Wallerstedt will have to watch out for in this matchup is defensive back Jalen Johnson, who’s picked off four passes this season for the Hawks.

The Hawks come into Friday night after a big 41-21 win over No. 9-seed Desert Mountain on their home field.

But just like that game in October, the Hawks will have to travel to Karl Kiefer Stadium and attempt to beat the Pride on their home field – something only one team has accomplished since 2011.

First-year head coach Brock Farrel and the Hawks bring a lot of talent to the table. They have received contributions from several players this year, but junior Kohner Cullimore and senior Jacob Wood have been two of the biggest.

They have played on both sides of the ball this year and have been relentless as well. Cullimore, has racked up 54 tackles this season from the safety position and picked off two passes.

On offense, Cullimore has carried the ball 70 times for 360 yards and seven touchdowns and he als has caught 20 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. It doesn’t stop there for the superstar junior, as he also returned has two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2017.

Jacob Wood has been just as big for the Hawks this season. He’s rushed for a team-high 460 yards and six touchdowns this season, including a 91-yard, three-touchdown performance against Gilbert on Oct. 20. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior has racked up 62 tackles from his linebacker position and also has been just as big in the passing game, picking off four passes.

Mountain Pointe boasts one of the best defenses in 6A, and to take home a second straight playoff victory, it will need to isolate both Wood and Cullimore on the offensive side of the ball. The line will also have to key in on these two, along with Highland leading tackler Tate Speaker, who has 99 tackles on the season.

The Pride’s ability to run the ball has been its strength all season long. The team has a stable of backs that includes Bragg, Jakim McKinney, Salgado and senior Je’on Moss, has recently emerged, scoring two touchdowns in the past two games.

Their success on the ground also has set up the passing game for Wallerstedt, giving him time in the pocket to either throw or to tuck the ball and run if no one is open.

If the Pride can establish their running game and avoid turning the ball over, it should be able to walk away with this one and advance to the semifinals for a matchup with the winner of No. 4-seed Perry and No. 5-seed Hamilton.

No. 1 Mountain Pointe and No. 8 Highland kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, at Mountain Pointe High School.

-Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee at gmacafee@timespublications.com. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee

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