Desert Vista High football coach Dan Hinds waited seven years for his team to reclaim the Ahwatukee Bowl title against rival Mountain Pointe, and, much like previous meetings, the 22nd renewal last Friday came down to the wire.
A 37-yard touchdown catch by Dominic Shepardson from Parker Navarro and point-after kick with 4:52 remaining, followed by late-game defensive heroics that ended with an interception in the end zone as time ran out, proved to be the difference for the Thunder in their emotional 28-27 win over the Pride at Karl Kiefer Stadium.
The win evens the rivalry series at 11 each as the Thunder reclaimed the Ahwatukee Bowl Trophy, presented by the Ahwatukee Foothills News, after six straight losses.
“I’m just so impressed with this group of kids,” Hinds said. “They’ve fought through a ton of adversity this year but it hasn’t fazed this group. It’s amazing.”
Trailing, 27-21 late in the fourth quarter, Desert Vista faced third-and-nine and needed a first down to keep its hopes of winning alive.
Hinds looked to Navarro, his junior quarterback, to make a play.
“I was just looking to get the ball to my receiver,” said Navarro, who finished 8 of 18 for 103 yards and one touchdown. “(Shepardson) just caught it and made a play. The offensive line blocked good. Everyone just came together. It was great.”
Navarro scrambled out of the pocket with Mountain Pointe defenders in pursuit and connected with Shepardson, a senior receiver, between two defenders for the touchdown.
It was Shepardson’s only reception of the game. Senior kicker Matt Lewis added the extra point that proved to make the difference.
“I saw Parker scrambling and I knew I had to find a hole,” Shepardson said. “I knew the corner was on my back but I knew I had to get to the ‘promised land.’ I had chills on my back. I looked at my brothers, my family and friends in the stands.
“It gave me chills.”
Desert Vista’s defense then stepped up and stalled Mountain Pointe’s ensuing drive, forcing the Pride into a punt that rolled dead at the DV 1-yard line. The Pride defense dug deep, forced a punt and gave their offense one last chance with 50 seconds to play.
Mountain Pointe quarterback Nick Wallerstedt showed poise as time wound down, moving the team to the Thunder 27-yard line, into position for a 44-yard game-winning field goal attempt with 11 seconds to play.
Instead, Pride coach Rich Wellbrock, who had eschewed what would have been a chip-shot, field-goal try as the first half ended, called for one more play.
Wallerstedt’s pass was intercepted in the end zone as time ran out.
Mountain Pointe took the lead with just under 5 minutes to play but missed the extra-point try. It also missed a short field-goal try earlier.
“We kept giving them opportunities,” Wellbrock said. “Every time we had a chance to give ourselves space we couldn’t do it. We kept them around and they made plays.”
Wallerstedt completed 17 of 29 passes for 205 yards and was the most-effective Pride rusher with 131 yards and a touchdown.
Jakim McKinney, Mountain Pointe's leading rusher coming into the game with 774 yards, carried only twice for six yards.
Instead, Wallerstedt, a senior, kept his team in the game from start to finish, even after Desert Vista pulled ahead on two occasions.
Wellbrock said that the Pride had turnovers and miscues on both sides of the ball all evening that really made the difference.
“The game doesn’t come down to a PAT,” Wellbrock said. “There were a number of times we should have scored touchdowns. We kept stubbing our own toe.”
Desert Vista was without leading rusher Tyson Grubbs for the second week because of an injury to ligaments in his right foot. An MRI will determine whether the junior will remain sidelined the rest of the season.
Junior running back Colby Humphrey, senior fullback Armando Delgado and freshman Devon Grubbs – Tyson’s brother – stepped up in his absence.
Humphrey rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
Meanwhile, Delgado – who also plays linebacker – used his 6-foot, 220-pound frame to power his way down the field both on the ground and through the air. The senior rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown and made four catches for 38 yards.
“He did amazing things,” Navarro said of Delgado. “He made big plays that we built momentum off of. He’s a game changer.”
Mountain Pointe (3-4) came into the contest No. 10 in the AIA playoff rankings. But the Pride have been competitive in each of their losses, all against top teams, losing three of them in the closing minutes.
Wellbrock hopes to relay that message to his players as they look to rebound from yet another close loss next week at Chaparral (5-2).
“We are a few plays away from being 6-1,” Wellbrock said. “We have to find a way to flip the script on these close games. The schedule has toughened us up and now we have to win some close games.
“That’s what it comes down to.”
As the Thunder (6-1) look ahead to next week, when they host Boulder Creek (4-4), Hinds will always remember this game as one of the most special in his long career.
“I don’t have words to describe how good this feels right now,” Hinds said. “We’ve been involved in some great games around here but this one ranks at the top.”
Desert Vista 28, Mountain Pointe 27
Desert Vista 0 14 7 7 - 28
Mountain Pointe 7 7 7 6 – 27
MP – Wallerstedt 14 run (Abercrombie kick), 9:12.
DV – Humphrey 9 run (Lewis kick), 7:11.
DV – Delgado 1 run (Lewis kick), 2:28.
MP – Sanders 90 kickoff return (Abercrombie kick), 2:11.
DV – Humphrey 2 run (Lewis kick), 8:08.
MP – Wallerstedt 5 run (Abercrombie kick), 4:22.
MP – Sanders 2 run (kick failed), 7:31.
DV – Shepardson 37 pass from Navarro (Lewis kick), 4:52.
First downs 15 22
Rush-yards 46-183 28-185
Comp-Att-Int 8-18-0 17-29-2
Pass yard 103 205
Total yards 286 390
Fumbles/lost 1/1 3/1
Penalties 10-80 6-30
Desert Vista – Humphrey 26-82, Delgado 7-60, Navarro 5-25, Grubbs 7-16. Mountain Pointe – Wallerstedt 12-131, Sanders 14-48, McKinney 2-6.
Desert Vista – Navarro 8-18-0, 103 yards. Mountain Pointe – Wallerstedt 17-29-2, 205.
Desert Vista – Delgado 4-38, Shepardson 1-37, Ervin 1-17, Thomas 1-11, Jackson 1-0. Mountain Pointe – Davis 5-49, Washington 4-82, Williams 4-61, Sanders 3-1, Dickson 1-12, Gomez 1-0.