Centennial’s opening strikes deflate Ironwood Ridgeby Geoff Grammer on Dec. 06, 2008, under Special, Sports
Box score / Slideshow
Ironwood Ridge falls 41-14 in semifinals
No. 4-seeded Ironwood Ridge lost to No. 1 Peoria Centennial 41-14 in a Class 5A Division II semifinal football game Friday night.
Producer: FRANCISCO MEDINA/ 5A-II playoff bracket
CHANDLER – The Ironwood Ridge High School football team knew it would have to play the prefect game to pull off the upset.
But the quest for perfection turned to frantic desperation in the blink of an eye.
Peoria Centennial’s lightning-quick superstar John Hughes took the opening kickoff of Friday’s Class 5A Division II semifinal game 90 yards down the west sidelines of Chandler High’s Austin Field for a touchdown, setting the tone early in a lopsided 41-14 win by the Coyotes..
No. 1-seed Centennial intercepted the ball on No. 4 Ironwood Ridge’s second offensive play, setting up a 5-yard Hughes touchdown run, putting the shell-shocked Nighthawks in a 14-0 hole just 1 minute and 20 seconds into the game.
“Mistakes put us in the hole and just took us out of our game plan pretty early on,” said Ironwood Ridge coach Gary Minor, whose team turned the ball over five times. “. . . When Jake (Fischer, the team’s four-year starting linebacker/running back who has committed to play at the University of Arizona next year) went down with the injury (in the second quarter), we just couldn’t run the ball on them anymore. They were by far the best defensive team we’ve played against this year.”
With seven minutes left in the second quarter, Fischer aggravated injuries to both shoulders he first suffered in the team’s Oct. 31 loss at Sunnyside, taking him out of the offensive game plan and limiting his role on defense.
After rushing for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his team’s Nov. 21 quarterfinal win over Sunnyside, Ironwood Ridge’s only chance to knock off Arizona’s premiere program of the past three years seemed to be in its ability to control the game on the ground.
“(We played well) and I’m not taking anything away from them,” Fischer said, “but I think this would have been a whole different game if we would have stuck to our game plan, if we wouldn’t have had all those injuries. But the score doesn’t say that.”
And while Ironwood Ridge admirably tried to keep itself in the game in the first half, cutting the lead to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and 27-14 at halftime, Centennial’s defense used the luxury of a big lead to exploit its opponent’s obvious inexperience and discomfort with the passing game.
Ironwood Ridge sophomore quarterback Tyler D’Amore threw for 255 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked several times and forced many passes in desperation, leading to three interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Scott Campbell capped off his high school career with the game of his life, hauling in four passes for 168 yards.
But the night belonged to Centennial, a team that has gone 40-1 in the past three seasons and plays for its third straight 5A-II title next Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium against Avondale Westview.
Hughes, the diminutive 5-foot-6 running back who has rushed for more than 1,400 yards this season and scored 34 touchdowns, said Friday’s performance from the Ironwood Ridge defense wasn’t what he expected.
“It wasn’t at all,” Hughes said. “I’ve seen the film on them and they’re a real good defense, but I guess they didn’t come out (ready).
“I guess we wanted it more than them.”
Actually, the Ironwood Ridge run defense played better than the scoreboard would suggest, holding Hughes in relative check (17 carries for 52 yards).
But he still scored four times Friday with the kick return and three rushing touchdowns.
Ironwood Ridge senior linebacker/tight end Ray Cottman, who finished the season with 120 tackles and had a 68-yard touchdown reception Friday, was frustrated after the game wondering what could have been.
“They’re beatable – anyone is beatable and we knew that,” Cottman said.
“We weren’t scared of them. We just needed to show what Nighthawks football is all about, but it just got away from us tonight and that didn’t happen.”
Said Minor of losing several seniors who made up the core of what has been Tucson’s best defensive unit the past two years, “It’s going to be tough, but we’ll be back.
“We have a lot of young guys at the skill positions and we’ll be back . . . I’m real proud of our kids and the way they fought. We just didn’t have it tonight. Things didn’t go our way.”
For more on high school sports, check out the Grammer School sports blog.Slideshow #2
> 4A-II Championship: No. 6 Santa Rita vs. No. 1 Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep, Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, 11 a.m., Cox Channel 7