The opponent is the right one. The one it needs to be. The team everyone measures itself against.
Mountain Pointe has been building toward Saturday’s Division I state title game at 3:30 p.m. at University of Phoenix Stadium since the day Norris Vaughan accepted the job in January of 2009.
The first state title in school history could have come last season, but it didn’t because Hamilton won its seventh state title since 2003.
“They’ve won 14 state titles in 15 years somehow,” Vaughan said Wednesday in his offbeat, charming way at the state championship game press conference.
This season Hamilton (11-2) has seemed more vulnerable, having to win late against opponents it normally handles, losing to Chandler for the first time in school history and some even thought the Huskies were outside the top four teams in Division I, which hasn't been the case since their initial year in 1998.
And yet here Hamilton is – one win away from tying the Arizona state record for championships (8 by Mesa Mountain View) – again. The third-seeded Huskies are better at the end of the year, as they always seem to be under Steve Belles’ direction, as they come into the game healthy and winners’ of seven straight.
It’s the opponent the top-seeded Pride needs to fulfill everything the players and coaches have thought about for 371 days.
“Losing that game is why this team has been so relentless this year,” senior wide receiver/safety Jalen Brown said. “We’ve worked hard to get back to this point. It’s been what we’ve been waiting for.”
Being so close and failing has driven countless of athletes. Redemption comes for some, while others never get the chance. How it plays outs won’t be known, but it is clear – to even the opponent – that losing last year’s game gives Mountain Pointe an edge.
“They have the same chip on their shoulders that we did last year,” Hamilton cornerback Levi Sterling said. “I didn’t play on that (2011 state runner-up) team, but I got called up and watched them lose. It was a helpless feeling and I knew I never wanted to feel something like that again.
“I’m sure they’ve felt that same way ever since that game. It’s a motivator.”
Vaughan, who has never won a title in his 29 years as a head coach, is more of an Xs and Os guys. He knows that everyone is motivated by different things, but figures as long as everything is in line and the mistakes are minimal the Pride has a good chance to win each and every time they step on the field.
And to this point the Pride has done just that.
They’ve knocked off nationally ranked teams, some of the state’s top teams in Chandler and Hamilton (37-27 on Sept. 27), beat up on overmatched teams and finally had to play from behind last week against Desert Ridge.
“We’ve been good, but Hamilton was nationally ranked to begin the year,” Vaughan said. “They were the team we expected to play if we made the championship game. They’ve been the best program in the state and to take that next step we have to win a championship.
“Steve and his staff are great coaches and they have the most talent in the state.”
That has been the case most years, but indications are that is has shifted 13 miles to the west. There are just 48 more minutes of football in order to finish it off and bring the first golden ball to Mountain Pointe.
“This is what you visualize,” Mountain Pointe senior defensive end Charlie Trevino said. “When we put in the work, and think about winning a state title, we knew Hamilton was going to be part of it. If we are going to win it Hamilton is the one you want it come against so it leaves no question who is the best team in the state.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.