Up by just a point in the waning seconds of the rivalry game at Mountain Pointe on Friday night, the Desert Vista “Dawg Pound” defensive line that had stood tall all night made one final play.
With the ball on the Desert Vista 27-yard line and 11 seconds to play, Mountain Pointe senior quarterback Nick Wallerstedt dropped to pass, felt pressure – as he had all game – from the Thunder defensive line, and threw a hurried ball up-for-grabs that was intercepted in the end zone as time expired.
Thunder fans rushed the field as their team escaped with a 28-27 victory in the Ahwatukee Bowl.
The Thunder (6-1) forced three Pride turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble, largely because of the push up front by the defensive line.
The Thunder defense took away Mountain Pointe’s two leading offensive weapons. Jakim McKinney, the Pride’s senior running back, who was averaging 110 rushing yards a game, inexplicably carried only twice for six yards. Dominic Davis, the Pride’s junior big-play receiver, who was averaging 111 yards a game and a whopping 21 yards a catch, caught five balls for 49 yards (9.8-yard average).
Desert Vista senior lineman Brett Johnson said he believed that the defensive front would have to play extremely well to win the game that Mountain Pointe had dominated with six straight wins and eight in nine years.
Johnson said that the Thunder’s defensive strategy worked to perfection.
“I usually play tackle, and I switched with our nose guard, and we played an odd front. That gave me the ability to push the center back as far as I could,” Johnson said. “We saw in film that they pull a lot, so we clogged up a lot of their pulls, and they had two guys on me most of the time, so that allowed space for the other guys to make plays.”
The Thunder defensive front, known as the “Dawg Pound,” caused pressure on nearly every snap, getting into the backfield quickly to hurry Wallerstedt’s passes or hit rushing attempts in the backfield.
Wallerstedt kept the Pride in the game with 205 passing yards (17-29-2) and 131 rushing yards on 12 carries, many of them designed runs.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to ever stop him, but we had to contain him, and our defensive line did that,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said.
The Thunder knew the Pride would try to pound the ball but Mountain Pointe’s backs had a rough go. Because the DV defensive front had the rush under control, the back seven made plays on the ball when it was thrown.
“Our game plan was that us, as a defensive line, had the running backs and the secondary was responsible for the other stuff. So we shut down those runners, and it made it hard for them to move the ball,” senior Tyler Roberts said.
Defensive line coach Derek Kennard, Jr., who nicknamed the line the “Dawg Pound,” said he was disappointed by the gashing Wallerstedt put on the Thunder’s defense with his legs, but was proud of the way his team stuck to the game plan.
“They’re getting better, but it’s nothing that I didn’t already foresee. I knew early on that this was going to be a great group,” Kennard said. “It’s my ninth year coaching, and I’ve had a lot of D-lines. This is a special one, with a lot of talent and depth throughout the whole line.”
With the game on the line in the Ahwatukee Bowl, Kennard said his “Dawg Pound” wanted to be responsible for deciding it. The takeaway from the game for his unit is confidence that it can compete against any offensive line it faces the rest of the season.
“I told them that we’re built for this, we want the game on our back. We always do because I trust they’ll get it done,” Kennard said.