GLENDALE, Ariz. — Phoenix Mountain Pointe laid claim to the title of Arizona’s best high school team back in late-August and continued to look the part all season. On Saturday, the Pride cemented that claim with their first state championship.
Other than a few penalty-filled early minutes and a rare deficit, Mountain Pointe dominated the line of scrimmage and used its superior athletes to brush off defending champion Chandler Hamilton 42-19 in the Division I title game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mountain Pointe stretched the field with its big-play passing game in the first half, ground out a title-sealing drive late in the third quarter and tacked on two late touchdowns off turnovers so that the final score matched the on-field dominance.
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The victory avenged Mountain Pointe’s loss to Hamilton in last year’s championship game, when the Pride also entered as the favorite.
“Revenge always has a great taste,” senior Wesley Payne said. “To look at that scoreboard and see 42-19, that’s a great feeling.”
The Pride’s victory kept the Huskies from their eighth big-school state championship, which would have tied Hamilton with Mesa Mountain View for the most in state history.
Mountain Pointe now has beaten Hamilton in three of the last four games they’ve played, something that seemed unimaginable five years ago when Norris Vaughan took over the Pride.
“I always envisioned winning it all,” Vaughan said. “It never entered my mind that we might lose. Maybe I’m stupid.
“This is special. I’ve won state championships in basketball and baseball (in Georgia), but football is special.”
Why is football so special?
“It’s football, God damn,” Vaughan said. “Everything compared to football is second.”
Likewise, no other team compared to Mountain Pointe this year. The Pride (14-0) let that be known when they handily beat perennial national power Bishop Gorman (Nev.) to open the season in Las Vegas and then rolled through the regular season and the playoffs.
“We were very goal-oriented,” Vaughan said. “We were last year, too. We just weren’t very mature last year. We were ready this year.”
Mountain Pointe trailed just five times this year. The fifth was Saturday, when Hamilton (11-3) took a 7-0 lead on Tyrell Smith’s 4-yard run in the first quarter.
Payne pulled the Pride even when he took a handoff and threw a 47-yard pass to Jalen Brown in the second quarter. It was the first time Mountain Pointe ran the play this year.
“We’ve been practicing that for three weeks now,” said Payne, who also rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown. “I knew I was going to get the call on that.”
Mountain Pointe used big passes to Emmanuel Butler and Timmy Hernandez, who finished with 142 receiving yards, to build a 21-7 halftime lead.
But Hamilton, which could not get its run game going, pulled within striking distance via special teams. Morris Kroma’s 83-yard punt return cut the Huskies’ deficit to 21-13 late in the third.
Mountain Pointe answered with an 80-yard drive in 4 minutes, 42 seconds. Payne capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
“We’re not a huge come-from-behind team,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “We got it close in the third quarter there and had a chance. We just couldn’t stop them.”
Hamilton had just 233 total yards and committed three turnovers.
“Once it got into the second half, we felt in control; we felt dominant,” said Brown, an Oregon commit who had an interception in addition to his first-half touchdown catch. “I was thinking about last year’s loss and how it was painful. It hurt. That was my motivation.”