Red Mountain’s run to the 6A Conference semifinals as the 13th seed isn’t surprising.
Not just because the team has won eight games, and could have had an even better record if it weren’t for a one-point loss to Hamilton and a squeaker to Skyline during the regular season.
It’s because a double-digit seed making the semifinals and beyond in Arizona’s largest football classification happens regularly.
The Mountain Lions’ trip to the semis is the seventh time since 2002 it has happened, and that team on the roll has made the finals five of the previous six attempts.
If Red Mountain (8-4) is to become the sixth double-digit seed to make it the Lions are going to have to knock off No. 1 Mountain Pointe (12-0).
They are playing at a high level – knocking off No. 4 Skyline and No. 5 Brophy – to get here and the team’s confidence is at a season-high after overcoming a 26-14 halftime deficit to beat Brophy 34-33.
“At halftime we really came together as a team,” All-everything junior Lance Lawson said. “We told them we got to play with all our heart to get this win and we came out in the second half and that’s what we did.”
The Pride, on the other hand, haven’t had a watershed moment to get them through something in the middle of a game. They’ve dominated throughout with only one opponent having a fourth-quarter drive with a chance to tie the game.
It doesn’t mean, however, Mountain Pointe hasn’t had to overcome.
There are not many teams that can lose its senior quarterback and a running back that was among the top five in the state in rushing because of injuries and keep on rolling.
Then again most teams do not have a defense like Mountain Pointe has this year.
The Pride had four defensive touchdowns and created five turnovers in the quarterfinal win against Desert Ridge.
It was just the continuation of dominance as the defense entered the quarterfinals with 70 QB hurries, 48.5 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks, 63 passes defended, seven fumble recovers, 14 interceptions and seven defensive touchdowns including blocked punts for scores.
“They’re pretty good,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “A lot of it is scheme and film study, but the players still have to line up right and be in position to make plays. The defense has been pretty special.”
Red Mountain’s offense has been driven by the interchangeable part that is Lawson, who has more than 2,000 yards and 28 total touchdowns as a quarterback, running back and slot receiver.
“We get fired up to play against players like that,” junior defensive end Khalif Ravenell said. “If you are willing to run the ball that hard every time we are willing to hit hard every time. That’s what we do. It’s raising the level of competition. Once that bar gets raised we raise higher than the bar.”
He isn’t a great passer, and did most of his running the ball, but has been helped out with the emergence of Austin Duffy at quarterback.
Duffy has played 10 games since transferring from Red Mountain and the team has gone 8-2 since he stepped on the field.
He has completed 59 percent of his pass for 1,370 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The Pride quarterback solution is a little more fluid as Noah Grover’s return to quarterback after breaking his leg in the second quarter of the Highland game on Oct. 7.
The best guess, if the senior is indeed cleared in time to practice, would be he splits time with sophomore Nick Wallerstedt.
Grover, who dressed out last week, but didn’t enter the game, completed 66 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions and 169.3 yards a game.
He was never required to do much considering the leads the Pride had by halftime and the fact that running game averages 290.8 yards a game.
Wallerstedt has done more damage with his feet, including his first 100-yard game against Desert Ridge last week, as he has 26 carries for 284 yards in five and half games with two touchdowns.
“If (Grover) isn’t available we are completely confident in the things Wallerstedt can do,” Vaughan said. “We only threw the ball four times (against Desert Ridge) because that’s all we needed to.”
How much the Pride needs to do against Red Mountain remains to be seen, but it has been clear over the years that a double-digit seed might bring more of a punch than expected.
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda
Numbers don’t mean a thing
Seven teams since 2002 have qualified for the big-school state semifinals in football
School Year Seed Destination
Ironwood 2002 11 State runner-up
Mountain Ridge 2004 16 State runner-up
Desert Vista 2007 11 State runner-up
Red Mountain 2008 11 Semifinals
Mesa 2009 11 State runner-up
Desert Ridge 2010 10 State runner-up
Red Mountain 2016 13 ???????