By the time the student body reached the turf at Karl Kiefer Stadium on the third Friday of August, the Mountain Pointe football team, celebrating as if it just won a state title, had the necessary scenario play out perfectly.
The team had built itself up for eight months.
All during winter weight room sessions, spring ball transformations and summer 7-on-7 performances, the players talked about being better, more importantly rising above the chaos of 2011, to becoming something Mountain Pointe had never seen.
In an instant it became reality.
The Pride knocked off perennial champion Hamilton, 17-14, with a last second field goal. It wasn’t just the fact that it was the first time Mountain Pointe had defeated the Huskies that changed the course of the program on the way to Saturday’s first state title game at University of Phoenix Stadium with a 12:07 p.m. kickoff.
It has more to do with how that win cemented the belief system that began in January during weight room sessions and the late night talks between groups of players on the team’s trip to the White Mountains just weeks before taking on Hamilton.
“We had to get that win,” senior linemen Kenny Lacy said. “It changed us. We thought we could be good, but that win showed us what we could accomplish when we all believed.
“If we would have lost that game I don’t know if we would have the confidence to win all of the other games.”
And now in order to win their first state football title, the Pride (12-1) has to do something that has never been done — beat Hamilton (11-2) twice in the same season — when they meet again three months after rocking the foundation of the program.
“They are a great team with a great coaching staff and we are looking forward to a bare knuckle fight,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “We’ve been in a few of them so that’s all right.”
A lot of time has passed and both teams are stronger now than the first meeting. Players have developed and tendencies have formed. Winning has done wonders.
“I don’t think either team is all that different,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “They are a little better at what they do and so are we. The only thing that helps us is we lost to them and know they are a very good team.
“On the other side of that, they know they can beat us because they did.”
The first game could have easily been reversed if Hamilton had not benefited from a Mountain Pointe off sides on a 4th-down-6. The Huskies were up 14-7 and a field goal would have made it a two-score game.
The penalty set up a 4th and 1 that Hamilton converted for a fresh set of downs in the red zone, but quarterback A.J. Thigpen fumbled on the next play and the Pride’s Jalen Brown recovered.
Mountain Pointe scored on a 50-yard touchdown when Travonn White went high for a ball and the Hamilton defense over-pursued as he raced to the end zone to tie the game before Ryan Sheehan kicked the game winner at the end of regulation.
“It felt the same way as the state championship game,” Hamilton senior defensive back Cole Luke said, referring to the loss to Desert Vista in 2011. “There were tears and heartbreak and it set us back, but we’ve come back strong.”
Third-seeded Hamilton, which has been to five straight title games, winning three, lost the next week in Ireland to Notre Dame (Calif.), but has since won 11 straight.
The Huskies are back in their customary place, while the Pride are in a new surrounding that might not have happened if Week 1 didn’t play out the way it did.
“The whole thing was they had to go 90 yards against our defense and they did it,” Belles said. “That doesn’t happen against us. It just shows you that it is a different Mountain Pointe culture.”
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