Photo by Mark JonesGLENDALE, Ariz. – When Ka'wuan Ellis came to the sidelines after scoring the final touchdown for Mountain Pointe (Phoenix), teammate Paul Lucas pretended to size him up for a state championship ring.
Mountain Pointe, the nation's No. 11 team, celebrates its first Arizona state championship following a 42-19 win over defending champion Hamilton at University of Phoenix Stadium.
There is no reason to pretend any more.
Mountain Pointe, No. 11 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings, won its first state title Saturday by beating Hamilton (Chandler) 42-19 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Photo by Mark Jones"We knew 13-0 wasn't good enough," said Lucas, who finished 13 carries and 159 yards. "We all said before we felt like this was our time. We weren't going to be denied."
Wesley Payne (5), Mountain Pointe
It was a culmination of nearly 12 months of work losing to Hamilton in last year's state title game, the first appearance in school history.
"I've been telling everyone for four or five months that this was going to happen," senior guard Natrell Curtis said. "There wasn't going to be anyone to who was going to stop us. We knew this was what we were capable of, we just had to go out and do it 14 games in a row."
Mountain Pointe served notice early on – back on Aug. 23 – when the Pride beat a highly-respected and nationally-renowned Bishop Gorman 28-21 in Las Vegas.
They have been nationally ranked and untouchable ever since.
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It was finished off not with a thing of beauty, but with a game that just showed how dominating the Pride is compared to the rest of the state this season by not playing their best and still being what has been the standard barrier in Division I.
Hamilton (11-3) grabbed the early lead on a Tyrell Smith 4-yard run, but the Pride didn't respond in their usual quick-strike offense and disciplined play.
Instead penalties (14 overall for 115 yards), a few missed assignments and unnecessary timeouts left the offense lethargic and the defense on the field too much.
Hamilton, which has lost three of its last four games against Mountain Pointe, had it going early didn't take full advantage of the Pride's slow start.
"We couldn't maintain," Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. "We needed to control the clock and get some score out of those. We didn't do it. We knew they were going to get it going at some point, but we didn't get enough separation."
The Pride never wavered and eventually righted themselves.
Running back Wesley Payne, who was a quarterback in youth leagues, connected with Jalen Brown for a 47-yard touchdown that was thrown with great touch as Brown got behind the defense to tie the game at 7 with 10:58 left in the second quarter.
"I was about to run it then I saw the safety go the other way and left Jalen," Payne said. "I kind of lofted it and he got to it. I learned that one from Antonio (Hinojosa)."
Antonio Hinojosa, who had a 7-yard scramble for a 14-7 lead, did the rest of the damage through the air as he continually hit Timmy Hernandez (5 catches, 142 yards) and Emmanuel Butler for big plays as the left-hander finished 10-of-15 for 250 yards with no interceptions.
None bigger than converting third and long with a 34-yard touchdown to Butler with seven seconds left in the half to push the lead to a comfortable 21-7.
"Coach (Norris) Vaughan always says do your job, do your job and it will pay off," said Butler, who finished with 4 catches for 106 yards. "It meant everything to contribute and do whatever the team needed. This is crazy. I will never forget those last five seconds."
Hamilton tried getting back into in the third quarter, a 12 minutes quarter the Pride has owned 114-7 this season, by holding the Pride scoreless and scoring on Morris Kroma's 83-yard punt return.
It might have stunned Mountain Pointe teams of past, but Vaughan, who won his first state football title in 29 years of coaching, this group of players was not going to be denied.
"We did some things we normally don't do, but we corrected it," said Vaughan, who kept focusing on team aspect of the win instead of what the 232nd and biggest win of his career meant to him. "The moment was big and it can get the best of you, but these kids stayed true to their character. I am proud of every single one of them."
The Pride answered with an 80-yard drive, keyed by a Hernandez conversion of a third and 4 early in the drive and 49-yard body twisting catch along the sideline that took 4 minutes and 41 seconds and was finished off with a Payne 2-yard touchdown.
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.
Look for updated photos from the state championship game later.