High school football: Forget the pass, Nighthawks do damage on ground

2012-11-23T00:00:00Z High school football: Forget the pass, Nighthawks do damage on groundAlex Williams Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 23, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Ironwood Ridge's opponents know what's coming when the Nighthawks have the ball.

That doesn't faze Ironwood Ridge at all.

The Nighthawks didn't attempt a pass in the second half of their 35-21 Division II semifinal win over Tempe Marcos de Niza last week, which launched Ironwood Ridge to its first state title game in school history.

Earlier this season, the Nighthawks attempted just eight passes in a 28-24 win over Peoria Centennial, which they will face Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe in the state championship game.

Ironwood Ridge attempted more than 10 passes in a game just three times all season.

"If my passing numbers aren't good but we're getting wins, that's all right with me," quarterback Tyler Williams said.

Almost everything the Nighthawks run is based on a shotgun read-option with Williams and running back Anthony Braunreiter.

This is the second year that the team has run its offense through a read-based play, and offensive coordinator Doug Braunreiter said Williams is a big reason why that's possible.

"It's that never-ending quest to find what works for the kids you have," Doug Braunreiter said. "Tyler's really smart. We give him the ability to read on quite a few plays. … He gets a lot of flexibility because he's such an athlete."

Here's a breakdown of what makes the Ironwood Ridge running game go:

Options

Williams gets the play call from the sideline, then Doug Braunreiter will often give him a another signal - whether to keep the ball, give it to Anthony Braunreiter, or to read the defensive end.

But once the Nighthawks get up to the line, Williams has the option of changing the play to a quick pass depending on how the defense is lined up.

"We're just trying to take advantage of every little thing the defense does," Williams said. "We like to keep our options open."

Williams said sometimes he doesn't even have to say anything at the line to check to a quick pass because all of the receivers are usually on the same page.

"Everyone does a good job staying on top of everything," he said.

Blocking

While the Nighthawks' offensive line uses four first-year starters and their center is listed at just 5 foot 7 and 205 pounds, the line is one of their biggest strengths.

Doug Braunreiter said the unit's success comes from a combination of their athleticism and how comfortable they are in the system.

"They're smart, but they're also athletic," Doug Braunreiter said. "They make up for (their size) by being fast. We work really hard on the technique because you can't get away with as much when you're smaller. They've got to work really hard on getting to the right spot and they've been great at that."

Ironwood Ridge guard Gordon Longville said the line uses mostly a power-blocking scheme, meaning defensive linemen are typically double-teamed until one of the blockers leaves for a linebacker.

But the Nighthawks add another small wrinkle to their blocking - instead of having each lineman assigned to the right or left, they line up on the formation's strong side, or what they call "quick side."

"At first it was a little weird, but we've got used to it," Longville said.

"We know the technique. We're going to get the job done."

Two-headed monster

Any offense would be able to move the ball with an line as effective as Ironwood Ridge's, but what makes the Nighthawks so dangerous is the backfield combination of Williams and Anthony Braunreiter.

The pair has combined for more than 200 rushing yards per game and has scored 42 touchdowns.

Braunreiter has contributed 1,685 yards and 27 TDs of that total.

"It's a fun offense to work in," Williams said.

Doug Braunreiter called having such a talented backfield "a blessing," and Anthony Braunreiter credited the line for making it easy to find yards.

"The blocking is just great up front," he said. "Everyone does their job."

By the numbers

A numerical look at Ironwood Ridge's offense

5,301

Total offensive yards for the Nighthawks

2,774

Combined rushing yards for QB Tyler Williams and RB Anthony Braunreiter

7.38

Average pass completions per game for I-Ridge

36.62

Average rushing attempts per game for the Nighthawks

58

Team rushing touchdowns for the Nighthawks

Division II championship

• What: Ironwood Ridge vs. Peoria Centennial

• Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday

• TV: FSAZ

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