Pioneers reach the Pinnacle at SDSU Passing Tournament

Pinnacle High School celebrates winning the SDSU Passing Tournament. (Justin Truong/SDSU Athletics)

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The victors pose for a team photo following the title game (Justin Truong/SDSU Athletics)

Pinnacle High School from Pheonix, Arizona, descended on San Diego over the weekend for SDSU’s Second Passing Tournament.

The event was the fourth the Pioneers had competed in since its spring camp.

At the first tournament, they lost to Liberty High (AZ) in the semifinals. The second held at Arizona State had the same outcome. Northern Arizona hosted the third, and Pinnacle lost in the quarterfinals. SDSU’s camp was the culmination of the program’s 7-on-7 portion of its yearly schedule. Pinnacle saved its best performance for last. It left America’s Finest City as champions.

“It was fantastic,” Pinnacle head coach Dana Zupke told EVT. “We’ve been going to this tournament for over 15 years, close to 20 years, for the most part. We took a couple of years off, but it’s always a great two-day tournament. … the best part is we go there and get a lot of work in.”

That Pinnacle peaked when it did was no surprise. The Pioneers are replacing three DI skill position players from last season. Gone are WR/TE Duce Robinson (USC), WR Myles Libman (Stanford), and TE Coleson Arends (Arizona State).

In their place, coach Zupke is breaking in younger players that he will be counting on in the upcoming season. SDSU’s Passing Tournament gave the newcomers and returning quarterback, rising junior Wyatt Horton, a chance to build chemistry.

“The tournament really helped us get in sync, and there’s just something about winning that you can’t replace,” Horton told EVT. “I was so happy to win because it gives my guys a taste of what we can accomplish, and I want them to carry that on into the season.”

Wyatt Horton was the star of the Passing Tournament’s Second Weekend. (Justin Truong/SDSU Athletics)

Path to the Title

Pinnacle opened an impressive 3-0 in pool play against stiff competition. They defeated Sierra Canyon, JSerra Catholic, and St. Augustine on Friday. Showing the talent gathered at the event, the Pioneers were only seeded tenth for the elimination brackets the following day.

They needed a come-from-behind win in the opening game of tournament play against Yuma Catholic to move to the winner’s bracket. After squeaking by Yuma, 28-23, they earned a quarterfinals’ matchup with defending champion Rancho Cucamonga. Pinnacle knocked out the champs with a resounding 35-12 victory to reach the semifinals against another Arizona powerhouse, Notre Dame Prep.

Like Pinnacle, Notre Dame came into the semifinal undefeated, and like every other team the Pioneers faced over the weekend, they left the contest with a defeat. Pinnacles’ 28-20 win moved them to the final and a rematch with Sierra Canyon.

“Notre Dame Prep, it’s a friendly rivalry,” Zupke said. “That school is up in our area, so a lot of our kids know those kids. Our depth came through in that (game). Notre Dame was playing a lot of kids both ways, and they were pretty fatigued by that point. So I think that helped us jump on top because they’re a very good team as well.”

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Just as they had done during pool play, Pinnacle bested Sierra Canyon. The contest ended with high drama and a lot of pressure on Horton. Up 14-13, the Pioneers needed to take time off the clock on their final drive without turning over the ball. An interception, worth two points, would have lost the game. Aided by a few penalties called against Sierra Canyon, Pinnacle ran down the clock and scored a touchdown securing the final margin of victory, 21-13.

“It was a much more competitive game the second time than it was the first time,” Zupke said. “You could tell they came in guns-a-blazin’ with a little chip on their shoulders. … You could tell they were looking at us, saying, ‘Okay, what are we gonna do different?’ So that definitely made that last game a lot more competitive.”

Pinnacle Standouts at SDSU’s Passing Tournament

Senior WR Mac Richards is the only returner with significant experience to Pinnacle’s receiving corps.  (Justin Truong/SDSU Athletics)

Zupke mentioned 2025 WR Jace Pina, 2026 WR Josh Pinder, and 2024 DB/LB Spencer Halvorson as players who helped themselves at SDSU’s camp. They join 2024 long snapper Alan Soukup, who was not at the tournament, as athletes on the Aztecs’ recruiting radar.

More than any of his teammates, Horton’s play earned him a spot in the middle of SDSU’s Class 2025 QB mix.

As SDSU offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley explained on Episode 64 of The SDSU Podcast, his approach to offering QBs is unique. Some OCs pass out offers like candy, but only a few of them are committable. SDSU, in contrast, only gives scholarships to signal callers that can be accepted at any time.

Lindley explained that he will typically only bring in one QB per recruiting class. When a QB commits to the Aztecs, SDSU commits to the QB and shuts down its recruitment of the position for that year.

Horton did not leave the Mesa with an offer, but that does not mean Lindley is not high on his game. He was the only QB SDSU’s OC invited back to his office to get better acquainted. Horton said he also met head coach Brady Hoke. Horton loves the direction of the program. Lindley has yet to see Horton in a real game and plans to prioritize seeing him in the future.

“(SDSU) loved me a lot, and Coach Lindley was a big fan,” Horton said. “I was the only QB all weekend that he took into his office and sat down with, so that shows the level of interest he has in me, but they said they want to be more patient as I have a unique situation going on, and that when he offers me he wants to make sure it is ‘a committable offer’ so I just got to be patient.”

Horton currently holds an offer from Utah Tech. He said SDSU, Arizona, and ASU are showing interest, along with more than a half dozen FCS schools.

For nearly two decades, SDSU has been Pinnacle’s preferred passing tournament. On Saturday, the 104-degree high temperature in the school’s hometown of Pheonix was 37 degrees higher than what the Pioneers experienced in San Diego. Zupke made sure the team also had time to visit the beach on their visit. More than a vacation destination, SDSU’s tournament stands out compared to others in the circuit.

Reflecting the personality of its head coach, SDSU’s Passing Tournament is geared more fairly toward the defense, Zupke said. Instead of getting four seconds to throw, QBs only get 3.5, and that rule is equitably enforced.

Player safety is prioritized by having multiple members of SDSU’s coaching staff officiating each contest. Zupke said as the price of passing tournaments keeps increasing, he wonders if the price is worth it at other schools but never at SDSU’s annual event.

With Horton leading the way, the Pioneers reached the state title in 2022. They are hoping to build off the experience in America’s Finest City last weekend as they prepare for 2023.

“Ultimately, for me, I want my kids to compete and to finish,” Zupke said. “When you’re a champion in anything, you’re hopefully cultivating some of that mentality. … I thought it was great.”

Among the 48 teams that competed last weekend, the Pioneers reached the Pinnacle at SDSU’s Passing Tournament.

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