When Chandler Hamilton wasn’t able to make it work in its schedule to play Las Vegas Bishop Gorman in the annual Barry Sollenberger Classic in August, the Arizona Interscholastic Association asked Phoenix Mountain Pointe.
The Ahwatukee school proved it wasn’t going to be someone’s next best choice. It already knew it was the best choice to represent Arizona in Nevada against one of the nation’s powerhouses.
Little did Bishop Gorman realize that Mountain Pointe was a much better team than Hamilton, and it showed in a 28-21 upset of the Gaels on their home turf. Nobody beats Bishop Gorman at Bishop Gorman.
But Mountain Pointe was special.
There was never a letdown as it finished 14-0 and cruised to the school’s first state football championship, dominating Hamilton twice, including a 42-19 rout in the Division I final Nov. 30 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It was only the first for the school, and the first football title for coach Norris Vaughan, who coached 20 years in Georgia, winning titles in other sports but never football, his biggest love.
“It’s football,” said Vaughan, who won titles in basketball and baseball in Georgia. “Everything compared to football is second. I love them all, but football is different.”
Last year’s team came close to winning it all.
It started the season with a 17-14 win over Hamilton. It was the first time Mountain Pointe had beaten Hamilton in football. But it closed the season with a 31-16 loss to Hamilton in the state-championship game.
Mountain Pointe returned many of those key players, including receiver/defensive back Jalen Brown, quarterback Antonio Hinojosa, offensive lineman Natrell Curtis and linebacker Wesley Payne.
Payne became the go-to running back this season, along with the main pulse of a defense that was among the best in Arizona history.
Brown had another stellar year receiving. He finished with a state-record 50 touchdown catches in his career.
Payne was a battering-ram back, finding holes behind a great line, led by Curtis, who has committed to Washington for college football.
Hinojosa had a tremendous championship game, completing 10 of 15 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a score. Payne even threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Brown on a halfback-option play that jump-started the offense in the first half.
“We don’t care who catches or who runs it,” Vaughan said. “I’m happy for our team. That’s what we are, a team.”
Asked how his first football title felt, Vaughan, after getting doused with ice water from his players, said, “It feels cold and wet.”
“Football is special,” he added. “It’s football.”