I-Ridge heads to title game for first time

2012-11-17T00:00:00Z 2012-11-17T09:15:34Z I-Ridge heads to title game for first timeDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 17, 2012 12:00 am  • 

GILBERT - When Ironwood Ridge quarterback Tyler Williams dropped to a knee on his team's final play to seal a 35-21 victory over Tempe Marcos de Niza at Gilbert Campo Verde in the Division II semifinals, no wild celebration followed.

The team didn't stream onto the field and coach Matt Johnson didn't receive a Gatorade bath. Instead, the Nighthawks quietly made their way to midfield to shake hands with the Padres.

Ironwood Ridge's mission isn't complete. Not yet anyway.

"We got one more to get," Williams said. "This feels great, but we got one more to get."

Running back Anthony Braunreiter rushed for 278 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries, and Williams added 143 yards on 23 carries to lift the Nighthawks (12-1) to their first title game appearance in program history.

Ironwood Ridge, which had lost in the semifinals the last two years, put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter on Braunreiter's 7-yard touchdown and conversion run to take a 28-7 lead.

"It's pretty special," Johnson said. "Obviously it's an awesome feeling, but there's still more out there for us."

The third-seeded Nighthawks will face No. 4 Peoria Centennial on Saturday in Tempe at Sun Devil Stadium in the DII championship game. Kickoff is set for 7:07 p.m., on Fox Sports Arizona.

Johnson's squad beat Centennial 28-24 during the regular season.

Early on Friday, it didn't look like I-Ridge was going to get to play Centennial for a second time.

Marcos de Niza (11-2) struck first, scoring on its opening drive of the game. It took just six plays and Arizona Wildcats commit Mauriece Lee scored on a nine-yard run to give Marcos a 7-0 lead.

Lee was electric on the opening drive, rushing for a 39-yard gain and catching a 13-yard pass before scoring. He didn't do much the rest of the half, rushing for 22 yards on five carries.

"We settled down defensively," said Johnson, whose team beat Marcos de Niza 35-27 in the regular season. "I think we were nervous early on, but we settled down and limited them."

The Nighthawks went three-and-out on their first drive, but safety Julian Figueroa picked off Padres quarterback Josh Eckley, setting Ironwood Ridge up at its own 40-yard line for a second possession.

Braunreiter scored from two yards out to get the Nighthawks on the board.

The point-after try was blocked.

After trading a couple of possessions, Ironwood Ridge scored again in the second quarter when Braunreiter scored from 27 yards out on second down.

The senior was dominant in the first half, rushing for 139 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries as Ironwood Ridge led 12-7. He carried it over to the second half and added two more touchdowns.

"We call him 'Mini Fridge,'" said Williams, with an ear-to-ear smile, whose 6-yard TD run and Braunreiter's conversion run made it 20-7 in the third quarter.

"He was amazing," Williams said about Braunreiter. "He's so tough and worked so hard. Our offensive line was also great. They were giving Anthony and me holes to run in all night and we followed them. Our offensive line is the heart of our team. ..."

Said Braunreiter: "I just followed their blocks and was able to get some yards. It was pretty simple."

Defensively, Ironwood Ridge held Lee and another Wildcats commit - wide receiver Paul Elvira - in check all game. Elvira, who came into the game with more than 1,400 yards on the season, didn't register a catch. He was guarded all game by Ironwood Ridge senior cornerback Cris Thorson.

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