All this week, Ironwood Ridge preached kicking down the door. They had been to the semifinals two years in a row, with zero championship game appearances to show for it. The Nighthawks were able to snap that streak with a 35-21 win over the Marcos de Niza Padres Friday night.
“You know what, it’s pretty special,” Ironwood Ridge head coach Matt Johnson said. “It’s high school football, we are about teaching these kids about life. We are excited, but hopefully these kids are learning something about character.”
The night did not start out special for the Nighthawks, as the Padres drove 80 yards down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive. Mauriece Lee capped the drive off with an eight-yard touchdown run to put the Padres up 7-0 early in the first quarter.
Momentum in the game shifted when Ironwood Ridge’s Julian Figueroa intercepted Marcos de Niza quarterback Josh Eckley on the Padres’ second drive of the game. The Nighthawks took advantage of good field position, getting their first score of the game on an Anthony Braunreiter three-yard touchdown run.
Braunreiter rushed for another touchdown in the first half to give the Nighthawks a 12-7 halftime lead. The senior running back had 293 yards on 33 carries, including four touchdowns in the Nighthawks’ victory.
“[Braunreiter] is a tank,” Ironwood Ridge quarterback Tyler Williams said. “He’s a beast. His will to win and his work ethic are unmatched.”
Ironwood Ridge extended the lead in the second half with a six-yard touchdown run from Williams. The senior signal caller rushed for 138 yards on 24 carries.
The Ironwood defense held Marcos de Niza in check most of the game, forcing the Padres to punt five times. The Nighthawks’ cornerback Cris Thorson held the Padres’ star wide receiver Paul Elvira without a catch. Elvira had over 1,400 receiving yards coming into the game.
“We did some things that we have not been doing most of the year,” said Johnson about his defense. “We did a lot more blitzing than we did in the first game [against Marcos de Niza]. Cris Thorson had an incredible game. If I had to pick a defensive MVP, it would be him.”
Ironwood Ridge will face perennial powerhouse Centennial in the Division II State Championship Game. The Nighthawks beat the Coyotes 28-24 in late September, and Williams understands his team’s work is not finished.
“We have one more game to go,” said Williams. “I’m going to make sure our guys are focused, we have a tougher opponent, and it’s the state championship.”