Signs of trouble are no longer just indicators for the Mountain Pointe football program.
A lot of the team's problem that sort of lurked below the surface as the team won five of its first six games came to the forefront Friday night in the Pride's 44-22 loss at Karl Kiefer Stadium to Mesa Desert Ridge in Class 5A Division I East Valley Region action.
While the margin of defeat - the worst in the Norris Vaughan era - is not a true sign of how the game went, it is clear the team doesn't have that extra ingredient that led to last season's unexpected success.
Desert Ridge (5-3, 3-1) scored three touchdowns, one that Mountain Pointe (5-2, 2-1) let happen in order to get the ball back and two defensive scores, in the final 1 minute and 34 seconds of the game.
"The stuff at the end was just garbage," Vaughan said. "We let them score at the end. The final score means nothing."
The Pride had a chance to tie the game on its last meaningful possession of the game.
Mountain Pointe's Brandon Trotter returned a pooch kick, after Desert Ridge went up 30-22, back 35 yards to the Desert Ridge' 27-yard line with 1:21 left.
One the first play, Pride quarterback Kyle Faunce tried to set up a screen but his pass was intercepted by Alex Barrett, who returned it 70 yards for touchdown and a unsurmountable lead, 37-22 with 1:07 left.
Before that the game turned on the one thing the Pride have been able to count on since Vaughan took over before the start of the 2009 season - running the ball even when the defense knows it's coming.
Mountain Pointe, which missed two extra points, led 22-20 and faced a 3rd-and-1 from its own 35 with 6:45 remaining in the game. The Jaguars had 10 defenders in the box and Mountain Pointe's inside run to Dillan Johnson (16 carries for 42 yards) went nowhere.
"We get that first down, we probably win the game," Vaughan said. "We blocked like cows all game and they have some of the best talent in the region."
After the punt, Desert Ridge took over at its own 44 with 6:24 remaining. With wide receiver Paris Clark injured, much of the Jaguars' passing game turned to senior tight end Sam Papa.
On the first play from scrimmage on the game-winning drive, Papa (3 catches, 84 yards) ran over a defender on the way to ripping off a 45-yard run down to the Pride 11-yard line. It led to Danny Berzins' 20-yard field goal for a 23-22 lead with 5:01 left.
From there Desert Ridge piled on as Mountain Pointe forced some passes by Faunce (10 of 21 for 129 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) because the running game never materialized.
The Pride has been on the good side of three blowouts this season, but in four of their games the rushing game has struggled to get the tough yards.
It's especially been the case in the two defeats with Mountain Pointe managing just 61 yards on 31 carries, including just 25 in the second half on 14 attempts.
"We have given up only one rushing touchdown all season," said Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock, who told his team afterward it was the biggest win in school history. "We know we can stop people when we have to."
The Pride's specials teams were part of the problem as Desert Ridge constantly had good field position after the kickoff return coverage allowed several seams to be exposed and the two missed extra points proved to be essential.
"You can't do that and expect to win against good teams in close games," Vaughan said.
The pass defense, one of the team's letdowns in the loss to Chandler Basha, struggled again as Desert Ridge's Parker Rasmussen threw for 192 yards on 13 completions with several key third-down pickups.
Vaughan said something was just off for the Pride.
"We were flat and we didn't play with much emotion," he said. "We had a week off of school and it looked like we slept most of it including tonight."
Desert Ridge's players felt some vindication after the way last season's meeting played out. The Jaguars led 28-0 at halftime a year ago and lost 35-34.
"The kids talked about it all week," Hathcock said. "We didn't because we look at each year as a different year, but the kids brought it up."
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Desert Ridge 44, Mountain Pointe 22
First downs 17 12
Rushes-yards 39-175 31-66
Passing yards 192 129
Comp-Att-Int 13-21-1 10-21-2
Fumbles-lost 1/1 1/0
Penalties 7/45 2/10
Desert Ridge 6 7 7 24—44
Mountain Pointe 6 3 7 6—22
MP – Holtrop 3 pass from Faunce (no kick), 6:45
DR – Rasmussen 6 run (kick blocked), 2:00
MP – Kadisak 35 field goal, 7:19
DR – Becerra 17 pass from Rasmussen (Berzins kick), 3:13
MP – Kartz 7 run (Kadisak kick), 2:39
DR – Counts 13 run (Berzins kick), 1:31
MP – Holtrop 20 pass from Faunce (Kadisak kick), 10:53
DR – Berzins 20 field goal, 5:01
DR – Counts 8 run (Berzins kick), 1:34
DR – Barrett 70 INT return (Berzins kick), 1:07
DR – Hathcock 31 INT return (Berzins kick), :57