not upset at having to travel

Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson isn't thinking about Peoria Centennial or Salpointe Catholic.

While the Coyotes and Lancers are playing tonight in one Division II semifinal, Johnson's Nighthawks will be playing Tempe Marcos de Niza in the other semifinal matchup at Gilbert Campo Verde.

But, Johnson is the one coach in the state who knows how the Salpointe-Centennial game tonight might look better than anyone else.

Ironwood Ridge is the only team to have played both teams this season.

The Star recently chatted with Johnson to get his thoughts on the other semifinal matchup, his team reaching the state semis for the third straight year and AIA rankings.

Whom do you consider the favorite in the Salpointe-Centennial game?

A: "I think Salpointe has to be the favorite. They have the offensive and defensive lines and speed. My question is: How do you handle Salpointe's fronts? Their offensive line and defensive front are all pretty outstanding. I don't know how you crack those. I don't see many weaknesses."

Your team and Marcos de Niza both went 9-1. You beat their team in the regular season and yet earned the No. 3 seed, while the Padres are No. 2. Have you gotten any explanation as to why the rankings had you behind Marcos?

A: "It's just based on the records of opponents. We played Cholla and Foothills, two 0-10 teams. Flowing Wells, Marana and CDO all had four or less wins, too. It's just strictly how many wins your opponents have. Theirs had more."

Does it bother you that your team has to travel to play them?

A: "I don't care about that stuff at all. At some point, if you want to be a state champion, you have to get on a bus and beat somebody."

How do you compare this team to the two previous Ironwood Ridge teams that have gone to the semifinals in 2010 and 2011?

A: "All three years, we've had a lot of talent. The 2010 team was probably the most talented. The 2011 team was probably the most focused team I've ever been around. They probably overachieved last year, but we found ways to win games. This team is in the middle. We have some really good talent, and we're pretty focused."