The Mountain Pointe run defense has been miserly, giving up very little and not happy with the scraps they do allow to the opponent, all year.
The holes haven’t been there, the cutback lanes have been clogged and the discipline has been ingrained.
The Division I semifinal matchup against No. 4 Desert Ridge on Friday will be the ultimate test of stinginess as the Jaguars (11-1) essentially do nothing but run it at will.
“This is going to be the most cohesive line we’ve faced all year and the running is the best in the state,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “They’ve been able to run the ball against everyone. It’s going to be a real test. Our concern is can we stop them because no one has been able to.”
Desert Ridge has rushed 500 times for an Arizona big-school record of 4,499 yards with 67 touchdowns. Junior Taren Morrison is the workhorse as he closes in on the big-school record of 2,740 yards held by Amphitheater’s Mario Bates, who set in 1990.
Morrison has 2,472 yards and 38 touchdowns (41 is the big-school record) on 183 carries and is one of the candidates for the player of the year.
“We haven’t seen anything like this,” senior outside linebacker Isaiah Jones said. “He is strong, fast and always breaks off a big play. The coaches will have us ready to stop what they do.”
The Pride defense allows 76.8 yards rushing a game because of their pack mentality, quickness, scheme and discipline. The Jaguars, who average just 5.6 pass attempts a game, rush for 374.9 yards a game.
“They have seven Taren Morrisons out there on defense,” Hathcock said. “Luckily, we are not trying to outrun everybody. We are trying to outhit, and pound all game long.”
The Jaguars have won 11 straight after losing to Gardena Serra (Calif.) to open the year and have lost their starting quarterback, Morrison’s twin brother Tarek, twice this year as he missed the start of the year due an ACL injury and went under the same procedure again last week.
It has led to the one-dimensional offense, but it hasn’t mattered. Desert Ridge has been held to less than 200 yards just twice and has topped 300 yards on the ground nine times.
“If that doesn’t work there really isn’t anything else we can do,” Hathcock said.
Eating up the clock with the ground game might just be as important as putting up points for the Jaguars’ offense as the top-seeded Pride (12-0) hasn’t been contained all season with its multi-dimensional offense.
“They present some as the same troubles as Serra, although (Serra’s) quarterback might be a little better, a higher-end athlete,” Hathcock said. “(Mountain Pointe’s) running backs are much better and they can throw it to (Jalen) Brown and two other studs. No matter who you are or what state you are in, if you can do both at a high-level like Mountain Pointe then it is going to be tough to stop.
“We have a very good front seven, but we lack some athleticism in the defensive backfield. They work their butts off and give maximum effort, but they are going to have to play their best game.”
However it plays out, one of these programs will make another state title appearance looking for their championship.
Both programs have been revitalized by their current coach as Hathcock has taken the Jaguars to four straight semifinals with one state title appearance (2010) and Vaughan, who has 99 career Arizona wins, and the Pride are in the semifinals for the fourth time in five years with hopes after making their second straight championship game.
“We were in the outhouse and we haven’t quite made the penthouse yet, but we are living the good life,” Hathcock said. “This is going to be a tough matchup, but I wouldn’t put anything past these kids. This isn’t the most talented team at Desert Ridge has ever had, but this is a fun group. They are good kids and fun to be around.”
Mountain Pointe has had a similar vibe while being considered the most talented and best team nearly all year.
“These guys don’t worry about anything but winning together,” Pride associate head coach Eric Lauer said. “They are in the locker room playing dominoes before they game. Everyone can talk about our talent, but there is team first-mentality.”
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