After playing three-time defending champion Hamilton tightly in the first game of the season, it would have been hard to envision Mountain Pointe needing a win in week 10 to make the postseason.
Yet, nine weeks later that's the case after a curious path during the regular season.
The Pride (5-4) enter Friday's home game against Westwood (1-8) in the 17th spot in the Division I powering rankings, which is one place too low to be included in the playoffs.
Projections have Mountain Pointe most likely making the 16-team field for the third straight year with a win over Westwood as long as No. 14 Corona del Sol (5-4) doesn't find a way to end the nation's longest winning streak by upsetting Hamilton, which has won 49 straight on the road.
There are a million other scenarios with all of the teams, along with their opponents and opponent's opponents, that could allow Mountain Pointe to get in, but the one that has the Pride beating Westwood and Corona losing is the easiest to figure.
"You just never know," Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. "Projections are just that. Nothing is for sure other than if we lose we are out."
The Pride beat Corona 37-6 on Oct. 6, so based on that one game, and strength of schedule, it appears Mountain Pointe is more deserving than the Aztecs.
Corona has made great strides in Tom Joseph's first season after going 1-10 last year, but have been outscored 187-34 against projected East Valley Division I playoff teams.
"There are five or six teams ahead of us right now in the power points that we feel we are definitely better than," Vaughan said.
The first year of Division I, computer scheduling, and sectional play has hardly been widely accepted, or seen as successful. Right now, all nine of the automatic bids fall within the top 16 in power rankings, but if somehow that changes it would bring even more scrutiny.
The players have less of handle on what the scenarios are, but for the seniors it is pretty simple.
"We've been to the playoffs the last two years and it would be hard to not get there your last year," defensive lineman Raynon Blackshire said. "We have our last home game and it is up to us to win it. The power points are different, but we can still get in."
Should it all fall into place for the Pride then it will be interesting to see how they fare against a top seed they likely have already lost to this season.
Hamilton, Brophy (9-0) and Desert Vista (8-1) are the current top three. Mountain Pointe faced all them and lost, by the combined score of 72-21. The other loss came against Chandler, currently fifth with a 7-2 record, but would move up if they win at Desert Vista.
Mountain Pointe played all four of these teams within the first six weeks of the season.
It was a top heavy schedule, to say the least, for a team that was struggling to find an identity offensively.
Clearly the quality of opponent has lessened in the weeks that followed, as the Pride found some footing. They have won three straight while growing with five sophomores in the starting lineup and still making mistakes.
They won't have the luxury of getting by with mistakes and still winning. It's going to be big boy football against a first-round opponent, should it all come to fruition. The level of play, along with the intensity of the postseason, will be something the Pride hasn't faced since September.
"The first drive, maybe," Vaughan said about the transition period of playing a higher caliber team. "As long as we finish strong against Westwood we will be ready against whoever it might be."
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