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Photo by Todd Shurtleff

The Mountain Pointe Pride of Phoenix hoist the Barry Sollenberger trophy after defeating host Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas 28-21 on Friday night.

LAS VEGAS — Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) football coach Norris Vaughan had a feeling that Friday was going to be a good night.

Not necessarily a Black Eyed Peas feeling, but "I just knew last night we were going to win," he said shortly after the Pride's resounding 28-21 win at No. 25 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) in the premier game of the eighth annual Sollenberger Classic. "I knew it because this team has heart. This team has character."

Photo by Todd Shurtleff

Mountain Pointe's Wesley Payne rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown.

And they have a lot of speed, which the Pride showed on both sides of the ball with a much more dominating performance than the final score indicated.

Mountain Pointe got a combined 317 yards rushing and three scores from Wesley Payne and Paul Lucas and the Pride outgained Gorman 448 to 230, leaving the entertaining Vaughan more than a little giddy in Sin City.

If not for four Pride turnovers — three in the red zone — this one would have been much more lopsided.

"Honestly we probably should have got at least 40 on them," Vaughan said. "But I'm not complaining. We're ready to party like it's 1999. We just have to find Prince."

If they didn't know before, they found out what a tremendous defense they had. The Pride held Gorman, which has regularly put up video machine numbers in the Tony Sanchez era, to two touchdowns.

Gorman's third score came on a 92-yard kickoff return by Daniel Stewart to cut Mountain Pointe's lead to 28-21 with 4:57 to go.

But like they did all night, the Pride responded with a hearty drive, all on the ground as Payne, a rugged 5-11, 200-pound slasher, ripped off gains of 32, 10 and 14 yards to put the game away. He finished with 20 carries for 165 yards.

Mountain Pointe, the Arizona large-school runner-up last season, drove to the 5 and then took a knee for a robust win.

"We showed guts, toughness and discipline," said Payne, who also played a stellar game from his linebacker spot. "I think we were overlooked coming into this game. We showed we can play with anyone in the state."

The state? Gorman was ranked nationally coming in, yet the Pride took it to them from the get-go.

Lucas, a 5-11, 175-pound junior, showed off his sprinter's speed on his team's first play from scrimmage, breaking outside to rip off a 52-yard touchdown run.

Photo by Todd Shurtleff

Gorman's Randall Cunningham Jr. accounted for 182 yards and two touchdowns.

He later scored on a 39-yard run and finished with 152 yards on just eight carries. Lucas is the state's reigning 100-meter and 200 champion, recording impressive times of 10.44 and 20.99 seconds, respectively.

"I didn't expect that," Lucas said of his opening scoring run. "I didn't even expect to start or get many reps. I remember thinking however many reps I got I wanted to make the most of them."

The Pride didn't take advantage of their scoring opportunities. They reached the red zone again in the first quarter but on the last play, Gorman's Terrance Chambers made a superb leaping interception of an Antonio Hinojosa pass at the goal line.

Mountain Pointe reached the red zone again on its next drive, but Hinojosa was sacked and Nick Gates recovered. Five plays later, Randall Cunnigham Jr. showed why he's one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country with a 48-yard scoring strike to Obim Okeke, tying the score with 4:11 left in the half.

But that heart and character Vaughan alluded to showed again as the Pride responded with a 72-yard drive capped by a beautiful 19-yard rainbow from the left-handed Hinojosa to Timmy Hernandez, giving Mountain Pointe a 14-7 lead with eight seconds left in the half.

"I'm telling you, this team has something special," Vaughan said.

When the Pride fumbled away the second-half kickoff at their own 20, Gorman looked like it might tie things back up. Instead three runs netted nine yards and on fourth-and-1, linebacker Austin Cronen stuck Stewart for a one-yard loss.

It typified both teams' night.

"We didn't take advantage of our opportunities," Gorman coach Sanchez said. "Our defense put our offense in some good situations but we weren't able to execute. Hats off to those guys. They did a great job. They outplayed us."

Photo by Todd Shurtleff

Paul Lucas breaks loose for one of his two long touchdown runs.

The defensive stand seemed to fire up the offense, which immediately rattled off a 35-yard run from Payne and a 15-yarder by Brandon Leonard to set up Lucas' second sprint to the end zone.

"I thought our defense was incredible," Vaughan said. "Probably as good as we've ever played. That was against an incredible force. The last time I saw a line that big was Oklahoma. The university."

Gorman kept fighting back.

Cunningham (5-for-10 passing, 82 yards, 16 rushes, 100 yards) cut the lead to 21-14 with a 1-yard sneak with 2:56 left in the third.

After Payne seemed to put the game away with an 11-yard touchdown run with 5:10 remaining, Stewart weaved his way up the middle for a beautiful 92-yard kickoff return, making it 28-21.

"We showed some athleticism and courage down the stretch," Sanchez said.

But Mountain Pointe just had a little more. They also had a lot more of 6-3, 340-pound two-way lineman Natrell Curtis, who paved the way for 328 rushing yards. Gorman did a good job of slowing down 4-star receiver Jalen Brown (two catches, 25 yards) but Hernandez made up for it was four catches for 87 yards and a score.

"It's a big win for us," said Lucas, whose team opened last season with a win over nationally ranked Hamilton only to lose to the same team in the state final. "But this is just the beginning."

Said Payne: "We have a long season to go."
Photo by Todd Shurtleff

Blue chip two-way lineman Natrell Curtis (left) and Wesley Payne (5) kiss the Barry Sollenberger trophy after Mountain Pointe's 28-21 win over Bishop Gorman on Friday.


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