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Les Willsey

Staff Writer,

Ironwood Ridge wallops Centennial for D-II football crown

Nov 24, 2012

All signs from first-half statistics Saturday night indicated at least a comfortable lead for No. 4 Centennial in its attempt to upend  No. 3 Ironwood Ridge for the Division II football title.

The Coyotes piled up 186 yards to a miniscule 61 for Ironwood Ridge. Owned a two-to-one time of possession advantage. But somehow Centennial trailed 7-3 at intermission. Ironwood Ridge did not rest on that advantage.

The Nighthawks swarming, speedy defense smothered Centennial in the second half and the offense made their share of plays in the third and fourth quarters to notch a decisive 27-3 victory over Centennial at ASU's Sun Devil Stadium.

Ironwood Ridge improved to 13-1 on the season giving the school its first football title in its 10-year history. Some may have though the Nighthawks' 28-24  win over Centennial(12-2)  in late September was a fluke with Centennial turning the ball over four times and suffering six sacks that night. Well, it was more of the same this time. 

"Im ecstatic about this," Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson said. "Hats off to Centennial. They're a great team. We got a lot of breaks... We have some of the best kids on earth. Kids with 3.6 or 4,0 GPAs. This game is a testament to them."

Centennial, as it did in the September loss, grabbed the early lead on Joe Navarro's 22-yard field goal with 11:08 left in the second quarter. until that time Ironwood Ridge had run three plays from scrimmage for nine yards. The saving grace for Ironwood Ridge came after another three-and-out. Centennial's Xavier Villanueva muffed a punt at his own 33  that was recovered at the Centennial 25 by Ironwood Ridge's Clay Allen. Three plays later quarterback Tyler Williams connected on a 24-yard TD to wide out John Klass for the 7-3 difference 8:48 before halftime. Centennial missed two field goals -- one in the first period and one late in the second. Those misses kept Ironwood Ridge on top.

Ironwood Ridge then displayed a second half that was a blueprint to earn a state title. They Nighthawks got the ball to begin the third period and marched 68 yards in 13 plays to lead 14-3. Mixing the running of Anthony Braunreiter and quarterback Tyler Williams was part of the recipe. Perhaps bigger were a pair of thrird-down pass completions of 14 yards and and 11 yards that kept the drive going. Braunreiter capped the drive with the first of his two TD runs, this one from 8 yards out with 6:48 left in the third period.

Recall Centennial had 186 yards at halftime. When the final stat sheet was tabulated the Coyotes finished with 205 yards -- just 19 in the second half. Two more turnovers and five sacks of quarterback Tre'von Grant added to Centennial's offensive misery.

What may have taken the wind out of Centennial was a pass deflection and subsequent interception by Ironwood Ridge with 51 seconds left in the third quarter. Linebacker Jake Matthews batted a Grant pass into the arms of linebacker Scott Simmons. Simmons took the pick 11 yards for the TD and a 20-3 advantage. Simmons finished with six tackles, the interception and a fumble recovery.

After stopping Centennial again early in the final period, Ironwood Ridge ate up another 64 yards in seven plays. Braunreiter ran straight up the middle 36 yards to paydirt to close out the scoring with 7:33 left in the game. Braunreiter gained a tough 80 yards on 23 carries.

Williams didn't wow with stats -- 59 yards rushing and (5-of-7 passing for 65 yards). But his habit of making third-down conversions was a factor in the outcome. He converted four third downs -- two by rush and two by pass -- on the scoring drive to open the third period. His 24-yard TD pass in the second period also came on third down. Johnson said after the game Williams is the best leader he's ever coached and deserves consideration for D-II player of the year.

"The difference in the second half was our offense was executing," Williams said. "Third down is the most important down and we made plays when we had to. Our defense. Our defense played lights out."

Centennial two-way standout Jalen Ortiz, who picked up 243 all-purpose yards in the first meeting between the teams in late September, had a solid first half with 89 total yards.Ortiz, who couldn't turn the corner for big gains like he normally does against the speed and quickness of Ironwood Ridge, was slowed in the second half as well. He finished with 109 total yards.