As the final seconds of Mountain Pointe’s season ticked away, Pride coach Rich Wellbrock couldn’t help but think about the missed opportunities.
“At the end of it all we had missed opportunities,” Wellbrock said. “Our defense got us some turnovers and then we didn't capitalize.
“Against a good football team you can't do that.”
Mountain Pointe, ranked eighth in the 6A playoffs, fell to top-ranked Chandler 49-21 on Friday night in the quarterfinals. The Pride finished the season 7-5 overall and came a long way since sitting at a daunting 3-4 with just three games remaining.
At that point of the season, one loss could have knocked the Pride out of playoff contention for the first time since 2008. But, the resilient group prevailed and finished the season on a three-game winning streak to not only clinch a spot in the playoffs, but home-field advantage in the first round as well.
Mountain Pointe’s confidence never deteriorated over the course of the season. Not even when the Pride suffered two last-second losses to seventh-ranked Queen Creek and rival and third-ranked Desert Vista earlier in the season.
Even when facing adversity, the Pride took it head on.
“They just kept fighting,” Wellbrock said. “They even did that tonight. We just have to tighten some stuff up as we move forward and make sure everything is going in the right direction.”
The end of the season means it’s the end the road for a talented senior class. One that Wellbrock, who is in his first season leading the Pride, will always remember.
“What a great group, it’s a group I’ll never forget,” Wellbrock said. “They had a lot of different personalities and came in a lot of different shapes and sizes.
“I’m proud to say that was my first senior class at Mountain Pointe.”
The senior talent and leadership was spread out across both sides of the ball, starting with quarterback Nick Wallerstedt.
A three-year starter for the Pride, Wallerstedt finished his career having passed for 3,875 yards and 33 touchdowns. The senior also rushed for 1,828 yards and 26 scores during his tenure.
Wallerstedt likely played his final game of football Friday night against Chandler, as the senior accepted an offer to play baseball next year at Arizona State University.
To say he will miss the game is an understatement. But he will admittedly miss the group of players around him even more.
“I’m going to miss it a lot, it’s going to be hard to move on,” Wallerstedt said. “I had a great three years. It’s definitely a brotherhood. It’s going to be hard to see everyone go and move on.
“But I’m confident these guys are going to ball out next year.”
Lining up in the backfield with Wallerstedt two seasons in a row was running back Jakim McKinney, who had a breakout year as a junior after rushing for 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The senior managed to eclipse 1,000 yards once again this season, but did it while battling injuries. McKinney’s final time wearing the Mountain Pointe jersey was spent on the sideline, as a high ankle sprain kept the senior from playing against Chandler.
“It was one of those situations where we were going to wait until game time and come that time, he couldn't put enough pressure on it,” Wellbrock said. “Unfortunately, his really good career with Mountain Pointe had to end with him watching. I know he didn't want any part of that."
In McKinney’s place Friday and over the course of the season as the senior battled injuries was sophomore running back Eli Sanders.
Sanders – who finished the season with 887 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns – represents the future of the Mountain Pointe football program. He, along with a plethora of other returning talent, are poised to continue the legacy of success Mountain Pointe has been used to over the course of the last decade.
But even with a bright future ahead, Sanders couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion at the thought of not playing with those such as McKinney who mentored him along the way.
“They’re my brothers, I love them,” Sanders said. “They worked so hard. We put everything on the field tonight but I guess it just wasn’t enough.
“I’m going to come back next year strong and ready to fight.”
As the coaching staff now turns their attention to the offseason, Wellbrock can’t help but reflect on his first season leading Mountain Pointe.
With an abundance of returning talent from this year’s team, he remains confident in the future of the program.
“We learned a lot about each other, from us learning about the kids to them learning about the staff,” Wellbrock said. “They now know what we expect of them and I think we’ve laid a great foundation to continue moving forward.”