Chad DeGrenier flung off his headset and looked for someone to hug.
His Mesa Mountain View Toros had just finished off a 43-31 upset of previously undefeated Phoenix Pinnacle, and DeGrenier was in the mood to celebrate. He engulfed an assistant coach in a bear hug, embraced a couple of players and then got in line for the postgame handshake.
A minute later he was talking to two reporters and answering a question that has been a long time coming for Mountain View: Was this a statement win?
“Everything is going in the right direction,” DeGrenier said. “The kids are working hard. Our theme is return to the Mountain View (of the past), and that’s what we are trying to do.”
It’s silly to say Mountain View is “back” only because back for the Toros means winning state championships, something they did five times from 1993 to 2002. But it’s certainly not a stretch to say Mountain View again is a relevant Division I program.
After opening the season with losses against Scottsdale Desert Mountain and Mesa Desert Ridge, Mountain View has reeled off four consecutive victories while averaging 47.4 points per game. It already has as many wins as it did all of last season, and an even bigger statement could be made this coming Friday, when it plays neighbor Mesa Red Mountain.
“All I will say is that we are getting better,” DeGrenier said.
Mountain View needed to beat Pinnacle if for no other reason than to validate what DeGrenier is doing. In 2011 the Toros won three consecutive games after a 0-2 start but then were walloped by Pinnacle 35-10. The three-game winning streak this year came with an asterisk because the opponents — Mesa Skyline, Glendale Mountain Ridge and Mesa Westwood — have a combined record of 7-11.
But Pinnacle, while not on the same level as some elite East Valley teams, was seeded fourth in Division I and had outscored its opponents 236-91. The Pioneers would again be a litmus test as to Mountain View’s supposed improvement.
As DeGrenier noted, “We were here a year ago.”
The difference this year? Well, Clark Brown for one. The junior wide receiver/defensive back was a one-man wrecking crew against Pinnacle, returning two punts for touchdowns, turning a screen pass into a 46-yard score and taking a kickoff 50 yards to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
The 5-foot-10, 145-pound Brown sped by the Pioneers’ special teams and defense with such ease it looked like Pinnacle was stuck in wet cement.
“Clark Brown really sparked our team,” DeGrenier said.
One win doesn’t elevate Mountain View into the group of state championship contenders. The Toros don’t have the size or depth to compete favorably with teams such as Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Chandler Hamilton or Phoenix Desert Vista. One example: Starting defensive lineman Michael Barker, a junior, weighs all of 186 pounds.
“It’s just scheme and smoke and mirrors,” DeGrenier said with a smile. “Just play hard and play tough.”
Mountain View could be in the conversation next year, though. Thirty-seven juniors return, including quarterbacks John Clark and Chase Funk, the team’s top three receivers and kicker Luis Bustillos, who nailed a 48-yard field goal Friday and gives the Toros a weapon most teams don’t have.
For now, though, it’s not about championships as much as it about progress. There is belief again on Brown Road, in the bleachers and inside the locker room.
Mountain View may not be “back,” but it’s moving forward.
Reach Bordow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-7996. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.