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Les Willsey

Staff Writer,

Ironwood Ridge kicks down the door, enters D-II title game

Nov 16, 2012

Ironwood Ridge running back Anthony Braunreiter nailed it after the No. 3 seed Nighthawks' 35-21 win over Marcos de Niza on Friday night when he said, "We kicked the door down."

The "door" was the entrance to what has been an elusive D-II (5A-II) title game the past two seasons that saw Ironwood Ridge fall a game shy of a championship appearance with losses  in the semis in 2011 to Cienega 2010 to Centennial. Ironwood Ridge kicked, stormed, overwhelmed -- use any comparable verb -- in beating No. 2 Marcos de Niza at the point of attack.. 

Ironwood Ridge (12-1) has one more obstacle in its quest for its first title. That's D-II power Centennial, which advanced to next Saturday's (Nov. 24) title game at 7 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium by knocking off top-seed Salpointe, 28-14. No. 4 Centennial (12-1) suffered its only loss of the season at Ironwood Ridge, 24-14, in late September. Marcos de Niza finished up 11-2. Its only losses were to the Nighthawks. This one was in more decisive fashion than the 35-27 loss back in September. 

Braunreiter led a unstoppable Ironwood Ridge ground game, rushing for  278 yards on 32 carries and scored four touchdowns. Quarterback Tyler Williams wasn't too bad, either, Williams ran the Nighthawks' offense smoothly and made pretty much all the right decisions. He scored once and added 138 yards on 23 rushes. All told Ironwood Ridge rushed for 442 yards. 

"It's pretty special to get there," Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson said of the school's long-awaited ticket to the title game. "Anthony had a great game. He's a great kid and we have a special group of seniors."

The rematch, unlike the first meeting when Ironwood Ridge led from start to finish, began in Marcos de Niza's favor. Intent on giving Ironwood Ridge a heavy dose of runnnig back Mauriece Lee, the Padres marched 80 yards in six plays and took just 2:07 to do it. Lee capped the drive with a 9-yard TD run. Lee accounted for 57 of the 80 yards. Lee fniished with 165 yards (93 rushing and 72 receiving).

A 60-yard march -- set up by an interception by Julian Figueroa -- pulled Ironwood Ridge within 7-6 with Braunreiter tallying from 3 yards out. The extra point was blocked, allowing Marcos to keep the lead for another half a quarter.

Braunreiter's 27-yard TD run with 7:35 left in the second period put Ironwood Ridge in front, 12-7, and in control. Even at that point it was becoming obvious that the Nighthawks were winning the battle in the trenches. Williams added a 6-yard TD run midway through the third quarter and Braunreiter put the finishing touches to a 99-yard drive a minute in to the fourth quarter with 7-yard TD.

Marcos de Niza scored for the second time at the 7:51 mark of the final period to pull within 28-14. Ironwood Ridge made sure any ideas of a comeback were nullified recovering an onside-kick and then taking five mintues off the clock to score again. Braunreiter plowed into the end zone with 2:52 left to make it 35-14 as another gaping hole invited the senior running back to the end zone Those holes were often courtesy of Drew Yaglowski, Gordon Longville, Joe Vetrano, Robert Coleman and Ryan Treiber.

"Our offensive line, they are such hard workers," Johnson said. "Everybody laughs at them because they're not that big. But they do the job getting great angles." 

Marcos de Niza, which piled up 424 yards passing in the meeting, couldn't get the aerial game untracked this time. The Padres managed just 119 yards -- 86 in the final quarter. They finished with 280 total yards.

Johnson gave special kudos to cornerback Cris Thorson, who had the primary assignment of covering Padres wideout Paul Elvira. Elvira had five catches for 169 yards the first time the teams played. Elvira was shutout on Friday. And frequent blitzing by Ironwood Ridge  made for a tough night for Padres quarterback Josh Eckley. Eckley rushed for two fourth-quarter touchdowns when the game was all but decided.

"They're pretty good up front, they controlled the game," Marcos de Niza coach Roy Lopez said. "Their ability to ground and pound took us out of our game."