Ironwood Ridge vs. Peoria Centennial

Division II state football championship: No joking, Nighthawks' opponent knows how to win big games

2012-11-24T00:00:00Z Division II state football championship: No joking, Nighthawks' opponent knows how to win big gamesDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 24, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The past three weeks, right before his team has taken the field, Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson has told his team a joke.

"Just a clean joke to keep them loose before they go out," Johnson said.

"I want them to focus on what we can control.

"And, what we can control is having fun and focusing on the brotherhood of Ironwood Ridge football."

The Nighthawks (12-1) will travel to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe today to play Peoria Centennial (12-1) in the Division II state championship game at 7:07 p.m.

And when they do, Johnson doesn't want his team thinking about its opponent. The coach and the 50 players on his roster can't control that.

They can control their effort and level of execution.

"I always tell the team: 'If the Green Bay Packers show up, we're going to have some mismatches, but we're going to go out there and do our thing,'" Johnson said.

That message is extra meaningful today.

The Coyotes might as well be the Packers when it comes to Arizona high school football.

Since the program's inception in 1992, Centennial has won three state championships and eight region championships.

It hasn't missed the playoffs since 2001.

Coach Richard Taylor has sent players to Arizona, Nebraska, Stanford, Idaho and several other programs across the country.

This year is no different.

The 2012 Centennial squad is paced by UCLA commit Jalen Ortiz. He's the team's only two-way starter and rushed for 219 yards on 14 carries against Salpointe Catholic in the semifinals.

He's also a dynamic cornerback on defense.

"He has to be the state player of the year," Johnson said. "Everything you do has to be revolved around containing him.

"He'll kill you if you don't."

But Johnson doesn't want his team thinking about Ortiz too much.

He wants them focusing on themselves.

The coach starts 20 seniors, most of whom have been on varsity for three seasons.

His expectation all season was to be playing tonight for the state championship.

"Everything we do has been for this moment," Johnson said. "That is what we have been focused on all season."

Added senior running back Anthony Braunreiter: "At the beginning of the season, I knew we had a team that could execute well and would play their hearts out on every play.

"That's what we've done all season."

Included in that run was a 28-24 win over Centennial in the regular season.

The Coyotes made a number of mistakes early and fell behind 21-3 before making a run in the second half.

"The thing that impressed me the most the first time we saw them was after they committed a ton of mistakes in the first half, they never quit," Johnson said. "They had great resolve. Great teams have to be able to battle back after adversity, and they did that.

"I'm not sure the two most talented teams in the state are playing tonight, but I think the teams with the most resolve are."

Today

• What: Ironwood Ridge vs. Peoria Centennial

• Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe

• When: 7:07 p.m.

• TV: FSAZ

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