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Arizona Football State Championship Preview: Win over Hamilton changed course of Mountain Pointe program

Nov 23, 2012
Photo by James Conrad

Mountain Pointe gained confidence by beating perennial champion Hamilton early in the season, but now Hamilton has a chance for revenge in the state title game on Saturday.

By the time the student body reached the turf at Karl Kiefer Stadium on the third Friday of August, the Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) football team, celebrating as if it just won a state title, had the necessary scenario play out perfectly.

The team had built itself up for eight months.

All during winter weight room sessions, spring ball transformations and summer 7-on-7 performances, the players talked about being better and, more importantly, rising above the chaos of 2011 to become something Mountain Pointe had never seen.

In an instant, it became reality.

The Pride knocked off perennial champion Hamilton (Chandler), 17-14, with a last second field goal.

But it wasn't just the fact that it was Mountain Pointe's first time beating the Huskies that changed the course of the program on the way to Saturday's first state title game at University of Phoenix Stadium, a 12:07 p.m. kickoff.

It has more to do with how that win cemented the belief system that began in January during weight room sessions and the late night talks between groups of players on the team's trip to the White Mountains just weeks before taking on Hamilton.

"We had to get that win," senior linemen Kenny Lacy said. "It changed us. We thought we could be good, but that win showed us what we could accomplish when we all believed.

"If we would have lost that game I don't know if we would have the confidence to win all of the other games."

Photo by James Conrad

Jalen Brown, Mountain Pointe

And now in order to win their first state football title, the Pride (12-1) has to do something that has never been done — beat Hamilton (11-2) twice in the same season — when they meet again, just three months after the meeting that rocked the foundation of the Mountain Pointe program.

"They are a great team with a great coaching staff and we are looking forward to a bare knuckle fight," Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. "We've been in a few of them so that's all right."

A lot of time has passed and both teams are stronger now than the first meeting. Players have developed and tendencies have formed. Winning has done wonders.

"I don't think either team is all that different," Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. "They are a little better at what they do and so are we. The only thing that helps us is we lost to them and know they are a very good team.

"On the other side of that, they know they can beat us, because they did."

The first game could have easily been reversed if Hamilton had not benefited from a Mountain Pointe offsides penalty on a 4th-down-6. The Huskies were up 14-7 and a field goal would have made it a two-score game.

The penalty set up a 4th and 1 that Hamilton converted for a fresh set of downs in the red zone, but quarterback A.J. Thigpen fumbled on the next play and the Pride's Jalen Brown recovered.

Mountain Pointe scored on a 50-yard touchdown when Travonn White went high for a ball and the Hamilton defense over-pursued as he raced to the end zone to tie the game, before Ryan Sheehan kicked the game winner at the end of regulation.

"It felt the same way as the state championship game," Hamilton senior defensive back Cole Luke said, referring to the loss to Desert Vista in 2011. "There were tears and heartbreak and it set us back, but we've come back strong."

Photo by James Conrad

Travonn White, Mountain Pointe

Third-seeded Hamilton, which has been to five straight title games, winning three, lost the next week in Ireland to Notre Dame (Calif.), but has since won 11 straight.

The Huskies are back in their customary place, playing in their 10th title game in 12 years, while the Pride are in a new surrounding that might not have happened if Week 1 didn't play out the way it did.

"The whole thing was they had to go 90 yards against our defense and they did it," Belles said. "That doesn't happen against us. It just shows you that it is a different Mountain Pointe culture."

The Pride's culture has changed, but every program in Division I aspires to reach the level of expectations that Belles has been able to maintain after taking over for architect John Wrenn. Now an assistant at Arizona State, Wrenn started the program in 1998 before making three state title games, winning in 2003 and 2004.

A win by Hamilton would give Belles his fifth state title, tying him with Jesse Parker for the most big-state titles in Arizona history, and would move the Huskies alone into second place for most big-school titles (7), breaking a tie between St. Mary's and Chaparral, with six each.

One thing is clear, Hamilton is itching to get back to being the one hoisting the golden ball trophy after being embarrassed in the state title game (a 45-19 loss to Desert Vista) a year ago.

"That wasn't who we are or what we are about," said Luke, a Notre Dame recruit. "We will be ready to play. We want to get (the trophy) back."

Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is an 18-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at or 480-272-2449.