Breaking loose

Mountain Pointe quarterback Dillan Johnson was thrown into the fire in week one and will only get better with time.

By Darryl Webb, AFN

Dillan Johnson walked out of the visitor's locker room at Hamilton late Friday night looking like a kid who spent three months dealing with mononucleosis.

At least this time, it only looked that way.

The last time Mountain Pointe took the football field, Johnson truly was dealing with the aftereffects of mono, as he returned after a four-game absence to return punts in the state semifinals in December against the Huskies.

And here he was again, doing his best to comprehend what happened and searching for what he could have done better.

"It was tough, but we think we are still a good team," the senior said. "This one is in the past. This is going to help us make progress."

Programs that have gone to two straight semifinals and won 22 games since the start of the 2009 season don't like to resort to "progress" as a silver lining.

But it is clear that is where Mountain Pointe is right now with its offense after Friday's 17-7 loss to Hamilton, which won its 41st straight game to set the Arizona state big-school record.

The Pride's defense stood up to the Huskies for three-and-half quarters. It was 10-7 at halftime with only wide receiver Kendyl Taylor making plays. The game remained separated by a field goal until the fourth quarter when the Huskies' one-way depth chart began to make a difference in the one-on-one battles.

It started to look like Mountain Pointe's defense had marbles under their feet and were being manhandled by the brand-new Hamilton line.

"The best we ran the ball all night came at the end of the game," Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. "I was really proud of our young kids (on the line). They absolutely grew up."

The difference wasn't for a lack of conditioning on Mountain Pointe's part. The defense was on the field too much. Not only couldn't they get a three-and-out, the Pride offense couldn't get a first down.


Unofficially, Mountain Pointe had zero first downs in the second half. Two tops. Regardless, it was too much to handle for the defense.

Yet, the defense wanted nothing to do with pointing fingers.

"We couldn't stop them at the end," said Mountain Pointe linebacker Jordan Leal, who threw up on the field several times in the middle of the final scoring drive before being pulled for a play or two. "You have to fight through it and make a stop. We couldn't get the job done."

And either did the offense, which brings it back to Johnson.

He was returning punts against Hamilton, just like he did in the state semifinal loss when that was all he was limited to as he came back probably too soon from mono but really wanted to contribute any way he could.

Johnson's responsibility has been cranked up a bit since that December defeat. He was moved from running back to quarterback, a position he had never played before. He had all of spring and summer and one scrimmage to make the transition.

But starting on a Friday night against a program that hasn't lost at home since 2004, has an all-time winning percentage of 92 percent (159-14) since its inception in 1998 and is the three-time defending state champions is a little different than 7-on-7s and practicing against Phoenix North.

That didn't matter to Johnson, who was stuffed on a 4th-and-2 run, trailing 10-7, from the Hamilton 30 with about 7 minutes left to end the Pride's last threat.

He made mistakes, didn't play as well he wanted and realized quickly that the offense wasn't as fluid as it needed to be against Hamilton.

"I got to trust my blockers, follow them and not try and make the big play every time," he said.

The Pride carried the ball 33 times for 128 yards and gained 28 yards passing on six completions in 10 attempts. Sophomore standout wide receiver Jalen Brown only had a handful of touches as the offense became pretty predictable with Johnson (14 rushes, 45 yards, TD) and junior running back Thomas Warren (11 carries, 24 yards) having little room to run in the second half.

"After their first drive we got a feel for what they were doing and knew they couldn't pass," said Hamilton senior defensive back Bobby Milus, who had an interception. "We knew what was coming after that and kept them from scoring again."

That will change with time as Johnson and everyone on the offense gets used to the new spread attack. Junior Caleb Buck, who is more of a prototypical passer, played sparingly, putting it all on Johnson.

Reps mean timing, experience and eventually smooth execution. Lesson No. 2 comes next week at home against Mesa.

"They are a frigging good football team," Belles said. "We are going to see them down the road somewhere. They are going to get better. They have a quarterback who is going to get better that is a lot like (Jordan Becerra of Desert Ridge.)"

In time he will, but Johnson left Friday's game feeling sick.

"We had our chances," he said. "We will get there, but right now this is tough."

Contact writer at (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter at @JSkodaAFN


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