It's tough to determine what pushed Mountain Pointe to possibly its best all-around game Friday in beating Gilbert Perry 35-21 in Class 5A East Valley Region action.
There is the adversity factor.
The Pride (7-2, 4-1) once again played with several players hobbled or out because of injuries. The team clearly rallied around the fallen, including starting running back Dillan Johnson and junior two-way lineman Raynon Blackshire, to knock off Perry (7-2, 4-1) to keep the region title in sight.
Then there is the little matter of head coach Norris Vaughan's 57th birthday on Saturday.
After Vaughan's energy-charged postgame speech, the team surrounded Vaughan and sang happy birthday, picked him up and then once his feet were back on the ground they let him have it with ice-cold water.
"They surprised me. It took my breath away for a second," Vaughan said of the impromptu shower, but he could have been talking about his team's performance as well.
The defense sealed the win when linebacker Izzy Marshall returned a 22-yard interception for a score and a 35-21 lead with 3 minutes and 23 seconds left, but it was also helpful in getting the Pride off to a great start.
Mountain Pointe got an early turnover to help grab a 14-0 first quarter lead and held Perry running back Cedric Simmons, who came in with more than 1,000 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, to 29 yards on 16 carries.
"We played a great game, made big plays early and late," Marshall said of the defense. "We wanted to take away what they do best (running the ball) and make them throw it. They got some big plays against our zone, but when we needed it, we came up big."
The Mountain Pointe offense took advantage of two short fields in the early going - Perry's punter Ronnie Sanchez fumbled a snap on the team's first drive as the Pride took over at the 15-yard line and Martin Moriel returned an interception 47 yards down to the Puma 7 - for the quick lead.
"You can't spot a good team 14 points and expect to win," Perry coach Preston Jones said.
Then after Perry tied it at 14 as quarterback Josh Uhlorn (23 of 35, 289 yards, 3 INT) took advantage of the Pride's focus on the run, the Mountain Pointe passing game took over.
The Kyle Faunce-Garrett Holle connection made a huge impact again as the tandem gave Mountain Pointe a score just before halftime and set up another coming out of intermission for a commanding 28-14 advantage.
The play that sparked it all was a 3rd and 20 from its own 16 with the game tied at 14 when Faunce hit Holle in the middle of the field for 24 yards. Holle went on to grab two more catches on the drive, including a 22-yard out route that found the end zone for a 21-14 lead with 49 seconds before the half.
"That third down play was huge," said Faunce, who finished 9-of-10 for 170 yards and two touchdowns. "We really got into a rhythm after that. I throw a ton of passes to Garrett at practice and we know what each of us is going to do before we do it."
Then on the first possession of the third quarter, Faunce hit Holle (6 catches, 138 yards) on a middle screen. After a few moves and stiff arm or two, the 6-foot-4 wide receiver was eventually tackled at the Perry 5 after a 44-yard gain to set up Jordan Leal's third score of the game for a 28-14 lead.
The Pumas, trailing 28-14, had a chance to close within a score late in the third quarter when it got down to the Mountain Pointe 8. Perry got into the end zone on a pass play, but had it called back because of offensive pass interference and ended up having to punt after another offensive pass interference.
"We had a bend but don't break defense tonight," Mountain Pointe defensive coordinator Jeff Decker said. "We had to put some players in positions they have never been in before, but they came through. It's something that we will be able to build off the rest of the way."
The win sets up an interesting final week in the East Valley Region.
Mountain Pointe hosts Marcos de Niza. Desert Ridge hosts Perry. All have one loss in the region.
"We are going to clash," Marshall said of the Marcos game. "There is a lot on the line and we are just starting to come together. We are going to be ready."
(480) 898-7915 or
Mountain Pointe 35, Perry 21
First downs 17 22
Rushes-yards 25-146 28-50
Passing yards 170 289
Att-Comp-Int 9-10-0 23-35-3
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
MP 14 7 7 7-35
P 0 14 0 7-21
MP - Leal 14 pass from Faunce (Kadisak kick), 9:28
MP - Leal 3 run (Kadisak kick), 8.3
P - Weisenberger 5 pass from Uhlorn (kick good), 7:15
P - Pouges 10 pass from Uhlorn (kick good), 2:38
MP - Holle 22 pass from Faunce (Kadisak kick), :49.
MP - Leal 1 run (Kadisak kick), 7:57
P - Arredondo 2 run (kick good), 7:19
MP - Marshall 22 INT return (Kadisak kick), 3:23
Vitals: Mountain Pointe (7-2, 4-1) scored just before halftime and on its opening possession of the third quarter to keep Perry (7-2, 4-1) in chase mode all game long in a key East Valley Region game.
Highlight: Mountain Pointe quarterback Kyle Faunce hit Garrett Holle on an inside screen in the third quarter and Holle used his moves, a stiff arm or two to weave in and out of traffic for a 44-yard gain that set up a touchdown for a 28-14 lead.
Player of the game: Mountain Pointe sophomore Thomas Warren gained 118 yards on 14 carries in place of senior Dillan Johnson, who was out with mononucleosis.
Key stat: Perry running back Cedric Simmons came in with more than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns but he was a non-factor as he was held to 29 yards on 16 carries.