Both Matt Johnson and Dusty Peace have been coaches in Oro Valley long enough to appreciate the magnitude of its “Super Bowl,” the annual early-season matchup between Ironwood Ridge and Canyon del Oro.
Both arrived at programs in Oro Valley in 2009 coming off 10-plus win seasons the year prior — Johnson to I-Ridge, Peace to CDO.
Since, the Dorados and Nighthawks have taken wholly different paths. On Thursday, I-Ridge showed it holds the advantage with a 42-14 win at CDO.
“Obviously, this is a huge game,” Johnson said. “We respect CDO so much, and there’s just no such thing as an easy or boring Ironwood Ridge or CDO game. It brings out the best in both teams and both schools.”
Nighthawks quarterback Dylan Key added: “There’s a lot of trash talk, but we’re all best friends on both sides of the ball. It’s fun, and it’s always good to be on the winning side.”
The Nighthawks improved to 3-1 and won their third consecutive game against the Dorados. CDO is 2-1.
It’s a far cry from when Johnson and Peace first arrived in Oro Valley. CDO went 14-0 in 2009 and won the state championship but have had fewer wins in every season since, bottoming out at a 4-6 in 2012.
I-Ridge won the state championship in 2012 and, despite having to replace 21 of 22 starters, looks to be in pretty good shape so far this season.
CDO is, too, having opened its season with wins against Nogales and Avondale Agua Fria before Thursday night’s loss. Peace knows it’s important that the Dorados don’t let the rivalry loss define their season. Next week, I-Ridge will take on Sierra Vista Buena at home and CDO will play at Cienega.
“It’s early, and we can’t let that make or break our season,” Peace said. “We gotta learn from it and come back hungry and remember what this feels like so we can work that hard in practice and focus to be more successful on Friday nights.”
Ironwood Ridge’s rushing attack, anchored by tailback Jake Vartanian, doomed CDO from the start.
He opened the game for the Nighthawks with seven straight rushes for 43 yards before he was taken out with an apparent injury. When he left, the offense stalled, and punted it away.
Vartanian returned when I-Ridge got the ball back late in the first quarter. On the second play from scrimmage, he romped 83 yards for the Nighthawks’ first touchdown. He tacked on two more scores — a 4-yarder in the second quarter and a 5-yarder in the third — and finished with 164 rushing yards. The Nighthawks had 367 rushing yards.
“You know, they ran the ball well, and that really took us out of our game plan,” Peace said. “We weren’t able to do what we wanted to do offensively because we couldn’t stop them, so we felt like we had to throw the ball, and by then it was just too late to make that decision, so I commend them. They’re a better team than most people think right now.”