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Les WillseyStaff Writer, AIA365.com email@example.com
Ironwood Ridge outlasts Marcos de Niza in D-II showdownSep 21, 2012
Ironwood Ridge's special teams set the tone. Its ball-control running game did its part. And a late stop by the defense Friday night finished off a hard-fought 35-27 victory over host Marcos de Niza in a battle of unbeaten Division II combatants.
Ironwood Ridge improved to 5-0 in beating Marcos de Niza for the second year in a row. The Nighthawks never trailed in the game, but never had a comfortable lead either making for a tense contest from start to finish. A pair of blocked punts in the first period jump-started Matt Johnson's club.
'Our kids worked hard this week and special teams came up with big plays," Johnson said. "We've blocked at least one punt in every game this year. We have a lot of quickness and try to use that...
"If we played them again the outcome could go the other way. We're glad to win this one."
Senior quarterback Tyler Williams and senior running back Anthony Braunreiter scored a pair of touchdowns each to lead Ironwood Ridge. Braunreiter finished with 160 yards on 23 carries and Williams had 157 on 25 attempts. Both rushed for more than 100 yards in the second half. Backfield mate Jake Vartanian added the other score. All were rushing TDs as it came down to the Nighthawks run vs. Marcos de Niza's big-chunk passing game.
Ironwood Ridge had its first two TDs set up by blocked punts. Vartanian scampered 29 yards for the first one with 9:21 left in the quarter after the Nighthawks took possession at the Marcos 35 via a partially blocked punt.
After Marcos pulled within 7-6 on Mauriece Lee's 2-yard TD run, the second blocked punt led by Braunreiter's 4-yard run at 2:34 of the first period.
Marcos kept the heat on with anything but a short passing game throughout the contest. Quarterback Josh Eckley had a huge night, passing for 434 yards and three TDs. Two of the scores went to wide out Paul Elvira -- both in the second quarter from 13 and 33 yards out, respectively. Marcos receivers had eight receptions of 20 yards or more. Elvira's second TD catch came with 2:27 left before halftime pulled the Padres within 21-20 at intermission. Elvira finished with five catches for 169 yards.
Ironwood Ridge controlled the clock and possession much of the second half, but lost two fumbles and had an interception blunt drives. The Nighthawks managed to score on two possessions -- a nifty 49-yard TD run by Williams and Braunreiter's second TD run with 11:50 to play in the game. Williams TD came after Ironwood Ridge's punt team pressured Marcos into another short punt.
Eckley's final TD pass of the game came with 9:42 to play to Kamron Johnson. That made it 35-27. Marcos recovered an Ironwood Ridge fumble two minutes later and worked its way to the red zone. The Nighthawks secondary stiffened and defended a fourth-down pass with just more than four minutes left to halt the potential tying possession.
"We tried to get it in the hands of our playmakers," Marcos de Niza coach Roy Lopez said. "They did a good job backing off (pass rush)."
Marcos did not get the ball back. Ironwood Ridge ground out a couple of first downs and ran out the final four minutes.
"We've been to the semis the last two years so our guys have an expectation of success," Johnson said. "Marcos did a good job creating matchups against us and made some big plays. I was always worried with their ablity to make big plays."
There's no time for a letdown for Ironwood Ridge next week. The Nighthawks play host to unbeaten Centennial (5-0), a team that handed them one of their three losses last season in another Tucson-Phoenix matchup.
"There will always be that Tucson-Phoenix thing," Johnson said. "We try to go out and represent Tucson the best we can."