Blogs / Features
Les WillseyStaff Writer, AIA365.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Ironwood Ridge FB focused on climbing Division II ladderSep 20, 2012
Ironwood Ridge's 2012 football season has gone as scripted thus far. Four wins and no losses, including a decisive victory via shutout over Amphit district rival Canyon del Oro in the season opener. Those wins are paving the way for their goal set nine months ago.
"We've talked about it since January," Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson, now in his fourth-season, said. "Every year you set a goal. You want to raise the bar. It could be an extra win than last season or getting to the championship."
The next three games -- beginning Friday night (Sept. 21) at Marcos de Niza, at home Sept. 28 against Centennial and at Marana Mtn. View Oct. 5 -- are more treacherous than the first four. They have a combined record to date of 11-1. And they figure to shed light on whether or not a title-game appearance is in the offing. The Nighthawks have reached the state semifinals (5A-II and D-II) each of the last two years. They lost to Centennial in 2010 and fell to Cienega in 2011. One game short of this year's goal.
"Our view of the regular season is it's practice for the playoffs. The opportunity to play teams like Marcos de Niza and Centennial is huge. They've been contenders for a long time. We get to see what we do right and wrong, and get the chance to fix what's wrong if we end up playing them again."
That's one facet of last season that helped Ironwood Ridge in its pursuit of a state title. The Nighthawks filled their two "freedom games" with current D-II title contenders -- Marcos de Niza and Centennial. Ironwood Ridge beat Marcos last year by two touchdowns, building a a 27-0 lead and hanging on for a 34-20 win. The following week the Nighthawks bowed to Centennial, 21-7. Two wins or two losses. It didn't matter to Johnson. Those games were a real indicator of where his team stood in the grand scheme of title contention.
Ironwood Ridge narrowly missedgetting to the title game last year as Cienega snatched a 24-21 semifinal win late and deprived the Nighthawks that privilege. Ironwood Ridge was paced the last couple seasons by workhorse back Mitch Fischer, who supplied better than 200 yards a game rushing and receiving. Ironwood Ridge is regrouping a bit with that key loss. There is still plenty to be secure about.
"Losing (Fischer) was a big loss to the program," Johnson said. "But we have 14 of the 22 starters (some two-way) back who played last year. Most of our skills, defensive backs and linebackers. We did lose four of five offensive line starters and a couple from the D-line. How we do depends on how our interior holds up."
The lack of size and not much depth are the negatives, but to date not a problem. The next couple games should be more revealing.
"We are different this year," Johnson said. "We are quick. Smaller. Small in the line. The last couple years we were about 240 (average) on the line. This we're 215 on the line. Win or lose these string of games won't knock out us out. They make us better. You don't have to go 10-0 or 9-1 to make the playoffs."
Johnson inherited a winning program when he took over at the start of the 2009 season. Ironwood Ridge was 41-18 prior to his arrival; 29-12 since. They haven't had huge numbers to work with, but generally get the most out of who they do have.
"We dress 38 or 39 guys and we work them hard," Johnson said. "We condition them hard. It's like having 39 marines out there."
Senior quarterback Tyler Williams and senior running back Anthony Braunreiter are the statisical leaders on offense. But they bring more than athletic ability. They comprehend the road to success is in work ethic.
"Anthony is a great young man and a pleasure to coach," Johnson said. "He's the kid you find sneaking into the weight room for extra work. Tyler is a three-sport kid and he enjoys hard work. He understands that our conditioning isn't punishment. It's there to push us further."
Regardless of what happens the next three weeks of the schedule, Johnson won't sweat the outcomes.
"We know we'll be better because of these games come Saturday mornings," Johnson said. "The kids know we demand preparation each week no matter the opponent. Our parents value the competition we have and understand three-hour practice. Win or lose we won't hang out heads. It's all preparation to meeting that goal we've set this year."