Kyle Faunce was vaguely familiar with taking a snap from under center and Hunter Rodriguez had only seen the varsity game from the sidelines.

The quarterback position at the beginning of the year at Ahwatukee Foothills-based high schools was a bit of an unknown.

Mountain Pointe's Faunce, who played in Indiana his freshman season, joined the program in time for the 7-on-7 passing tournaments after playing some for Scottsdale Saguaro as a sophomore.

He showed off a strong arm and some athleticism, but was he the right fit for the Pride's power running game?

The 6-foot-4 Rodriguez looked the part and came through the system, but what wasn't known was how he'd handle the huddle on a Friday night.

The questions were answered long ago as both programs enter the Class 5A Division I state quarterfinals with 9-2 records and possibly with two of the better junior quarterbacks in the state.

"They are different aren't they?" Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. "One's tall and one's short. But they are getting the job done."

The Pride coaching staff put the ball in Faunce's hands last week with the game on the line despite the fact that he had probably the worst first half of his season.

"That gave me a huge confidence boost," said Faunce, who went 2 of 7 for 10 yards with two interceptions against Red Mountain. "Coach Vaughan told me to go get it after I played terrible. He put it on my shoulders and we came through to get the win."

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Faunce responded with a huge second half - 14 of 21 for 198 yards and two touchdowns - to win 21-17, erasing a 14-point deficit.

The second half was a continuation of his progress since the start of the season, especially in recent weeks as he is 29 of 44 for 472 yards with six touchdowns and two picks.

Overall he is 98 for 158 (62 percent) with 15 touchdowns with 10 interception for 1,480 yards.

"He has had a great year and he's learned a lot," Vaughan said. "He is playing underneath (the center) for the first time. He has done really well and he is going to get better and better."

Faunce had only played in shotgun offenses prior to coming to Mountain Pointe so there was a definite adjustment period in addition to gaining a rapport with receivers Garrett Holle (43 catches, 811 yards, 9 TDs) and Jalen Brown (21, 232, 2) and tight end TJ Holtrop (13, 216, 2).

"Coach Vaughan really helped me with footwork," Faunce said. "The biggest thing was getting the timing down on three-step and five-step drops and getting the ball out on time."

Rodriguez's play thus far has been defined by his unwavering focus.

"He has been so calm in every situation we have come across," Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. "He keeps his head and the players have noticed. Opposing coaches have said something about it, people like coach (Scooter) Molander at Brophy, who works with quarterbacks. It's something you can't teach."

It is a good thing that Rodriguez has that attribute or the Thunder could have had a much different season. Desert Vista has come from behind in four of its wins and has outscored opponents by nearly 100 points in the second half.

"He never shows any sign of trouble," said senior tight end Sean Coffinger, who was pressed into quarterback duty last season. "When I threw an interception, I'd get all fired up, but he stays calm and knows he will get them next time."

Rodriguez said he has reached a comfort level with making reads and coming to the right decision.

"There was a time where there was a hint of doubt sometimes, but you can't play that way," said Rodriguez, who started for junior varsity last season. "The Pinnacle game (where he threw for three touchdowns) was my breakout game. It showed me that I could play at this level."

There have been some hiccups along the way for Rodriguez, who has completed 70 percent or better in four games this season, but he has shown an ability to bounce back.

And that might be what excites Hinds the most about his left-handed signal caller.

"The good thing about Hunter is he takes coaching and criticism very well," Hinds said. "He knows he has things to work on and get better at. That is what is going to make him a good quarterback in the end."

On the season, Rodriguez is completing 57 percent (141 of 247) of his passes for 1,753 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

"The experience is what is making me better," he said. "I am breaking down my tape each week and trying to get better. We have at least one more game this year, hopefully more, and the offseason to get better."

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