A year ago Markell Simmons had never heard of the Ahwatukee Bowl.
On Friday night he had a big hand in why Mountain Pointe won it.
An interception by the senior corner back swung the momentum in Mountain Pointe’s favor and the Pride were able to pull away from Desert Vista, winning going away 49-6 crowning them the kings of Ahwatukee.
After the game, Mountain Pointe athletes and students headed toward the north end zone of Desert Vista’s stadium to celebrate like they traditionally do.
Simmons was the only player who started jogging toward the south end zone. As his fellow students and classmates gathered in a big huddle and started to chant, Simmons was mesmerized. He had experienced anything like it.
“It was crazy,” Simmons said. “I’ve never seen so much crowd before at a high school football game.”
Last season, Simmons played for Tucson High. Last December he transferred to Mountain Pointe and had no idea what the 'Tukee Bowl meant to the school and the community.
Mountain Pointe came into the game the heavily favored team. Early in the game it did not look like it. Because of costly penalties, the Pride were only up 14-6 at the half.
The Pride’s first offensive drive of the second half was stopped by the Desert Vista defense. As the Thunder drove down the field it looked like the underdogs were going to make it a close game.
Then late in third quarter Desert Vista sophomore quarterback Alex Farina threw a pass a little high for sophomore wide receiver Johnny Johnson.
Johnson could not handle the ball, tipped it in the air and Simmons was in the right place at the right time.
“Coach was telling us on defense that somebody had to make a play to turn this game around because we came out kind of sloppy,” Simmons said. “After I got my pick we turned the game around and we picked it up.”
Simmons took the interception 45 yards to the Desert Vista 40-yard line. The offense felt energized after the swift change in the game and had quick drive that ended in a 5-yard touchdown run by junior running back Brandyn Leonard.
After that interception the Pride took over the game and scored 35 unanswered points to demolish any hopes of Desert Vista earning an upset.
The Mountain Pointe defense forced three more turnovers during that span; two of which were interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Dominque Fentstermacher scored his first career varsity touchdown on a interception return and Jalen Brown followed with his own pick 6. It was the senior's 14th career interception to tie Mike Collins for the school record.
“I thought we played great defense,” coach Norris Vaughn said. “But in the second half I thought we kind of took over…All those interceptions were huge.”
Simmons said playing for Tucson High School he never really had a rival like Mountain Pointe has in Desert Vista.
He said Salpointe Catholic was the team’s quasi rival but Salpointe would always dominate his team. He said it was definitely a better experience being on the winner’s side.
Simmons’s teammates have experienced the Tukee Bowl rivalry for three years leading up to the game Friday.
With the way Simmons performed, his teammates obviously explained the game’s importance to him.
“It was the biggest game of the whole season, they told me,” Simmons said. “And I was ready for it.”
Hubbard is Tempe-based freelance writer.