With its season hanging in the balance, Mountain Pointe turned to its running game and its defense to rally from a 10-0 deficit and wallop Chaparral, 42-24, in high school football Friday night in Scottsdale.
The Pride (4-4) couldn’t afford another setback and hope to sneak into the top eight and a first-round home game in the playoffs, yet they appeared listless and disinterested as they fell behind early.
Then, coach Rich Wellbrock, who had alternated running backs Jakim McKinney and Eli Sanders all season, sent them into the game together. Combined with the running of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, the trio kept the Firebirds’ defense guessing as the Pride unleashed counter plays, sweeps and keepers.
McKinney rushed for 134 yards on 16 carries, Wallerstedt for 105 on 21 and Sanders was a carry away from the 100-yard club with 92 on 16 carries.
MP’s offensive line got a large push, and its receivers made key blocks to allow rushers to get outside the tackles and find space.
“Their defense blitzed a lot and we just had to take advantage of the gaps that they gave up. After the first couple of drives we got together and kind of figured it out,” senior lineman Alex Vogel said.
Among those relieved that they did was Sanders, a sophomore.
“We really needed this win,” Sanders said. “And a lot of our coaches came from Chaparral, so, it was kind of personal to us. We wanted to do it for them.”
Wallerstedt’s six-yard touchdown pass to senior Jathan Washington was his only completion of the second quarter and his last of the game. Wallerstedt would attempt only two more passes in the second half as the Pride kept the ball on the ground and kept the clock moving.
“It really helps us so we don’t get injured, and we all share the load,” Sanders said of the three-headed monster in the backfield. “I give a lot of the credit to the offensive line. They’re the best O-line in the state.”
While Wallerstedt was making plays with his feet rather than his arm, it was a play with his hand that might have saved both the game and the Pride’s season. In the fourth quarter with the Pride clinging to the lead, Wallerstedt, who doubles as the Pride’s punter, made a highlight-reel, leaping, one-handed catch of an errant snap deep in Mountain Pointe territory and then got the punt away before the Chaparral punt rush could get to him. Had the ball gotten away from him, the game likely would have changed.
Once the Pride weathered Chaparral’s early barrage their defense dug in to throttle the Firebirds’ high-scoring attack. The front seven kept pressure on Chaparral quarterback Jack Miller, often forcing him to hurry throws or throw on the run, and the secondary stuck to Firebirds’ receivers, knocking down balls downfield.
Miller, who has committed to play at OhioState in 2020, completed only 16 of 39 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. He had no choice but to throw because the Mountain Pointe defense all but shut down Chaparral’s rushing game (20 carries for 46 yards).
Like Mountain Pointe, Chaparral was fighting for playoff seeding, and several times play became heated.
Near the end of the third quarter, McKinney burst through a gap on fourth-and-five for a first down and his helmet came off during the tackle. The officiating crew ejected Chaparral junior Ben Eddleblute, saying that he threw a punch, which Eddleblute and Firebirds coach Brent Barnes disputed to no avail. McKinney did not suffer an injury, and scored a touchdown to finish the drive.
Just minutes later, on the Pride’s next possession, Mountain Pointe had to do a punt over due to two sets of offsetting penalties. Both teams committed personal fouls during the kick and then both received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties afterward.
“It was a really chippy game,” Mountain Pointe junior Cameron Rasmussen said. “Even when we came out for warm-up kicks, there was already some talking going on.”
There were 22 accepted penalties – 11 by each team – and several more that were declined or offset.
In the fourth quarter, Chaparral continued trash-talking. Though Pride players certainly chirped from the sideline, Wellbrock got his team to focus on the game and not draw a foolish penalty that would give up field position.
“We were able to have conversations with all of our kids and tell them that obviously there’s a bigger picture than that personal battle they want to get into,” Wellbrock said.
Wellbrock said he was proud of the way his team finished. Mountain Pointe had lost three games in the closing two minutes by a single score.
That is counterbalanced by quality wins over Highland and now Chaparral, both on the road, and against a schedule that statistically is the toughest in 6A.
“We know we can’t end the season less than .500 now,” Vogel said. “We didn’t need to say it out loud, but everybody kind of got the vibe for tonight.”
Mountain Pointe visits Desert Ridge (3-5) in the far EastValley on Friday. Chaparral (5-3) visits Pinnacle (7-1).
Mountain Pointe 42, Chaparral 24
Mountain Pointe 0 14 7 21 - 42
Chaparral 10 0 7 7 – 24
CHAP – Cervantes 32 pass from Miller (Christakos kick), 8:37.
CHAP – FG, Christakos 49, 4:32.
MP – Wallerstedt 1 run (Abercrombie kick), 9:03.
MP – Washington 6 pass from Wallerstedt (Abercrombie kick), 0:41.
CHAP – Norvell 10 pass from Miller (Christakos kick), 6:57.
MP – McKinney 3 run (Abercrombie kick), 3:17.
MP – Wallerstedt 10 run (Abercrombie kick), 6:13.
MP – McKinney 4 run (Abercrombie kick), 5:14.
CHAP – Norvell 24 pass from Miller (Christakos kick), 3:52.
MP – Wallerstedt 3 run (Abercrombie kick), 0:59.
Mountain Pointe – McKinney 16-134, Wallerstedt 21-105, Sanders 16-92, Washington 1-4. Chaparral – Hubbard 18-37, Miller 1-9, Williams 1-0.
Mountain Pointe – Wallerstedt 4-12-1, 17 yards. Chaparral – Miller 16-39-1, 235.
Mountain Pointe – Davis 2-9, Washington 1-6, Delco 1-1. Chaparral – Christakos 5-119, Norvell 4-57, Hubbard 4-18, Cervantes 1-32, Crawford 1-9.
First downs 21 15
Rush-yards 53-335 20-46
Comp-app-int 4-12-1 16-39-1
Pass yards 17 235
Total yards 352 281
Fumbles/lost 0/0 3/1
Penalties-yards 11-87 11-93