Mountain Pointe senior defensive lineman Chad Papineau tracks down Mesa Desert Ridge quarterback Parker Rasmussen. Ron Sill/Special to AFN

In the corner of Norris Vaughan's office sits a cardboard cutout of John Wayne from one of his classic cowboy films.

It might have been from True Grit. Or maybe The Undefeated.

Either movie title is fitting as Mountain Pointe prepares for the final two weeks of the regular season.

The Pride (6-2, 3-1) travel to Gilbert Perry (7-1, 4-0) tonight with the East Valley Region title essentially on the line.

It's time to defend, as John Wayne's character assuredly would, what is rightfully theirs.

With three teams, Desert Ridge, Marcos de Niza and Mountain Pointe, with only one loss in league play and chasing undefeated Perry, the Pride have to win this week in order to stay in contention for the region title.

"There is a lot of ways for this to end, including a three-way tie," Pride senior linebacker Izzy Marshall said. "As of now it is still ours. We have to focus, don't have any breakdowns and we can keep it."

Two region titles in two years under Vaughan would have a great ring to it, but it has nothing to do with earning the ring that comes with a state title.

Region titles have little bearing on the state tournament. Region winners get automatic bids, but teams good enough to win a region title almost always have garnered enough points to crack the top 16 anyway.

Throw in the fact that the East Valley Region has a mix of Class 5A Division I and Division II schools and the title is for bragging rights only.

"Playoffs matter more than region, but to win our region we have to win out and that is only going to put us in a better position at state," Marshall said. "I'm a senior. I want to be able to say we won region my last year."

The Pride is focusing on the postseason more than anything. As many as four starters might be out this week against Perry. If the playoffs started this week there might be more of an urgency to play.

"Unfortunately, our injuries have come late," Vaughan said Monday. "I think we are going to be all right. We won't know until later in the week."

The offensive line has been hit the hardest - Chris Carl, Bijan Musgrove and Kyle Luis missed time recently - and forced 6-foot-4, 270-pound RJ Hollis, who began the school year at Desert Vista, to play offense for the first time after only seeing action on defense.

It has definitely hurt the offensive production in recent weeks, but quarterback Kyle Faunce sees a breakthrough on the horizon.

"We were good early and recently we haven't been as effective," Faunce said. "We've had some changes, but we are getting focused just in time for the final run."

Marshall said the defense has some shoring up to do as well before it becomes a lose-and-go-home format.

"We have to focus from the start and not have any mental errors," the Arizona State recruit said. "I don't think we have come close to playing to our potential. We can be a lot better."

The Perry offense, behind Cedric Simmons'1,033 yards of rushing, 16 touchdowns and an average of 37.6 points a game, is going to be a difficult challenge for the Pride defense.

Perry is playing at a high level in its fourth season of varsity ball. The Pumas went 5-6 last season, their first with a senior class, and have taken it to the next level under head coach Preston Jones.

"I think Desert Ridge has the best talent in our region, but Perry might be the best team," Vaughan said. "They are really, really good and have a lot of seniors.

"I think we can play with them and have our work cut out for us."

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