The schedule has lightened, and so has the number of injured players for Mountain Pointe.
The combination has the Pride feeling OK about postseason possibilities, despite losing four of its first six games.
Mountain Pointe (4-4) enters Friday night's game at Mesa Mountain View (3-5) with its first two-game winning streak of the season to sit at No. 19 in the Division I power rankings.
Winning out is a must against the Toros and Westwood (1-7), and the Pride might still need some help with the teams above losing.
If it happens, Mountain Pointe will have to face one of the top seeds and the opposition knows the Pride, with a talented roster and veteran coaching staff, are not the typical double-digit seed.
"I feel good about the team," Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. "We are going to be a pretty good team if we make it."
The Corona del Sol and Mesquite game this week features the 16th and 17th ranked teams so one of those teams is sure to be jumped by Mountain Point, should it beat No. 29 Mountain View.
Additionally, No. 15 Tucson, which has played only one DI program so far this year, travels to No. 10 Sunnyside this week, so that is another potential positive loss for Mountain Pointe's playoff plans.
As the playoffs near the Pride is starting to get healthy, as senior middle linebacker Jordan Leal (knee) has been cleared for this week, senior offensive linemen Kyle Luis (rotator cuff) is back, and defensive linemen Mark Fraboni should also be back.
While the team is still missing some players, namely defensive starters Nick Griffin (hand) and DeSean Griffin (leg), the return to health of Leal is like a baseball team getting a stud pitcher at the trade deadline.
"He was one of the most important cogs on defense, the defensive quarterback, so when we lost him we lost a lot," Vaughan said. "He is big and strong, and someone who can play at the next level."
Leal was hurt in the first defensive series against Desert Vista in week three, so getting back in there six games later doesn't mean he is going to be at his best, but he is ready to go mentally.
"It was so hard to just watch," Leal said. "I did everything I could to help (the other linebackers) but it's not the same. I'm ready to get back out there and do my thing."
Luis' return keeps the offensive line shuffle going. The Pride has been lucky to run the same front out each week, for various reasons.
Luis' absence has allowed for the development of 6-foot-3, 274-pound junior Lucas Hunter, who started at one of the guard spots in his place against Kofa after going in for Luis early in the win over Corona.
"I just wanted to get my assignment right and play hard," Hunter said. "Kyle helped me get ready. We've been playing better and, hopefully, it continues."
There have been some changes this season for the Pride as they struggled on and off the field for the first time since Vaughan took over the program prior to the 2009-10 season.
Leal acknowledged that there have been some tough times, and the three-year starter doesn't want his final season wearing Pride colors to end regrettably.
"We started to get back together and work as a team, focused on the playoffs," he said. "It would be pretty devastating if we come up short. Your main goal as a senior is to make the playoffs and play for a state title. All we can do is play our butts off and see what happens.
"We're definitely deeper than we have been in the past, and we like our chances the rest of the way."
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