They were not acquainted with losing this season.
Last year was different.
Mountain Pointe’s football team sat quietly in a locker room recalling what went wrong eight times.
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12-1 Aug. 28 at Dobson 45-14 W
Sept. 4 Highland 56-14 W
Sept.11 Basha 21-10 W
Sept. 17 at Desert Vista 34-18 W
Sept. 25 at Casa Grande 69-14 W
Oct. 2 Skyline 35-13 W
Oct. 16 at Desert Ridge 35-34 W
Oct. 23 Westwood 28-14 W
Oct. 30 Perry 49-7 W
Nov. 6 at Marcos de Niza 26-23 W
Nov. 6 Westwood 49-14 W
Nov.13 Basha 22-21 W
Dec. 4 vs. Mesa 10-14 L
But this season the Pride, with a roster of most of the same players who knew defeat too well a year earlier, had slipped out of seemingly hopeless situations like comic book super heroes for 12 weeks.
Then, one game away from their first trip to a state championship game the Pride turned out to be mortal.
“It’s tough when the dream dies,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said after the Pride finally did lose, 14-10, to Mesa in the semifinals Friday night.
“A lot of people would have liked to have gotten here and we’re glad we did,” Vaughan added, “but there are a lot of tears because our dream died.”
However, what the Pride football team did for Mountain Pointe this season can’t be put in a trophy case.
“These guys began to believe in themselves, then people started to believe in them and, eventually, everyone in the school believed in themselves,” said Mountain Pointe athletic director Ian Moses.
“It’s been a good time at Mountain Pointe,” Moses added. “Sure, it hurts right now and it will hurt for a while, but you can’t be too sad about a 12-1 season.”
After Mountain Pointe went 2-8 last season with a 42-6 loss to rival Desert Vista in the Ahwatukee Bowl to close out the season, coach Phil Abbadessa stepped down after three seasons.
Moses and principal Bruce Kipper went searching for someone to turn the program around.
They found Vaughan looking for an opportunity to return to a “big school” program leading 3A Wickenburg to a 45-7 record over five years.
“You could see the aura he brings with him all year,” Moses said. “The man knows football, but what he also does is invigorate, inspire and, more than anything else, teach these young men to be men and be positive role models, not just for the athletic program, but school-wise.”
Kipper said he remembered sitting in the Desert Vista locker room after Mountain Pointe had lost to the Thunder in the final game of the season last year.
“We were getting our butts kicked every week,” Kipper said. “And look now, we won 12 games.”
The reversal even surprised Kipper.
“I didn’t think he would turn things around so quickly,” Kipper said. “I thought it would take a couple of years. But Norris and his assistants have the kids believing in the leadership now and this team doesn’t realize what it has done for the school.”
The post-season will be an adjustment for the players, Vaughan explained.
“We’ve been together since the first week of August and here it is December,” Vaughan said. “They’re going to miss being together because they became a real team and a family.”
Mountain Pointe will be losing 26 seniors off of this year’s team, including some skill offensive players like running back De’Andre Currie and Davon Jones, who accounted for 3,357 and 54 touchdowns.
But next season Vaughan can expect to draw from a junior varsity team that went 9-0 this year.
“This was a good football team and we were one play away, offensively or defensively, from the championship,” Vaughan said.
“I don’t know if we’ll have another team like this,” he added. “We’ll have some good ones, but I don’t know if we’ll have one as good as this one and that’s what makes it hard when the dream dies.”