From the opening kickoff, it was the quintessential showing of fortitude from both teams.
As the clock ran out and teams shook hands, players from the winning side raised their helmets and yelled with excitement and satisfaction as they jumped in the air in unison. On the losing side, players shed tears while others simply hung their heads in defeat.
Led by JaKim McKinney’s 200-plus yard showing on the ground and Ben Abercrombie’s two field goals — including the 31-yard game winner as time expired — No. 2-ranked Mountain Pointe defeated No.17-ranked Gilbert on Friday night at Karl Kiefer Stadium, 33-30.
Purdue-commit Jack Plummer went aerial on the Mountain Pointe (8-2) defense all night long to the tune of four touchdown passes, but a steady running game led by McKinney, Delano Salgado and Je’on Moss proved to be too much in the end for Gilbert (4-6).
“We played one heck of a quarterback tonight,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. “We had a tough time getting to him.”
Trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter, Plummer and the Tigers caught the Pride off guard.
On a flea flicker play, Plummer launched a pass downfield, connecting with Dawson Tanner for 47 yards and the first sign of movement for Gilbert. A few plays later, Plummer found Oscar Lopez in the back of the end zone for the Tigers’ first score of the game. A successful two-point conversion gave them an 8-7 lead with just under a minute remaining in the first quarter.
Wasting little time, Mountain Pointe fed McKinney for two quick first down gains and on the third play of the ensuing drive, Moss took it to the house.
Barreling over several Gilbert players and breaking a handful of tackles, Moss trucked through the Tigers’ defense for a 30-yard touchdown run to give Mountain Pointe a 13-8 lead.
No less than five minutes later, Salgado fielded a punt from Gilbert and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown. Except, the Pride were called for a holding penalty and the touchdown was swiftly called back.
All disappointment was thrown out the window on the ensuing play as Wallerstedt handed off to McKinney and the Gilbert defense could only watch in awe as the 5’7 running back turned on the jets and scampered the length of the field for an 83-yard touchdown run.
“We ran hard tonight,” Vaughan said.
From that point on until late in the third quarter, Mountain Pointe and Gilbert traded blows, eventually setting up a game tying drive in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 30-23 and following a forced Mountain Pointe punt by Gilbert, Plummer took the Tigers the length of the field for a game tying drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock.
After moving the chains and completing four consecutive passes, a costly defensive pass interference penalty committed by the Pride moved Gilbert into the red zone. One play later, Plummer found Drew Hudson on an out route from seven yards out to tie the game 30-30 with just over four minutes remaining.
Starting from its own 37-yard line, Mountain Pointe returned to the one thing it knew best. With the help of McKinney on the ground and a 17-yard pass to Marshawn Gibson, the Pride moved well within Abercrombie’s range.
With two seconds remaining, Abercrombie drilled it through the uprights from 31 yards out and the Mountain Pointe players rushed the field to greet their savior.
Rushing for well over 200 yards on the night, McKinney eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season. Kenneth Lofton recorded a sack of Plummer in the third quarter to finish the season with a team leading 8.5 sacks.
Unable to hide amongst the many positives, penalties haunted Mountain Pointe for the game’s entirety. A number of long plays were called back on costly penalties and in most other scenarios, would have been the nail in the coffin for the Pride.
Vaughan and Mountain Pride will look to drastically improve upon its mistakes as it now prepares for the 6A playoffs, beginning next week.