By the end of the 2017 season, Ironwood Ridge and Mountain View had nearly identical records.

The Mountain Lions finished the regular season with a 7-3 overall record, going 4-2 in conference play and 2-2 in region. They went on to the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs, where they lost to Queen Creek.

Ironwood Ridge went — you guessed it — 7-3 overall, posting a 4-3 conference mark and 2-2 in region play. The Nighthawks lasted two rounds in the state playoffs before being eliminated by Peoria Liberty.

And when Mountain View and Ironwood Ridge met head-to-head? The Mountain Lions beat the Nighthawks 28-23.

Southern Arizona’s mirror images will square off again Thursday night, when the Mountain Lions host the Nighthawks as part of the Coaches for Charity Kickoff Classic. The first high school football game of the 2018 season is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Mountain View coach Clarence “Bam” McRae said he’s excited to start the season, but he knows his team has to play sharp to beat the Nighthawks.

“Ironwood Ridge is a very, very good team,” McRae said. “So, we know we have our work cut out for us because we have to play almost mistake-free football in order to beat them.”

I-Ridge coach Matt Johnson said the showcase game comes with one drawback: “It means I get one less day to prepare.”

Johnson has reason to be concerned. Ironwood Ridge lost 23 seniors from last year’s squad, and most of them were starters.

The Nighthawks return just four starters.

“I mean, we’ve got a ton of new guys,” Johnson said. “Mountain View has a bunch of guys like Calib McRae, who’s a four-year starter. It’s a great challenge for us. They’re a great team. The biggest thing that we have to do is we just have to make sure to learn and improve because we have a bunch of playoff teams coming up, so hopefully this is a good wake-up call for the guys.”

The Nighthawks will debut a new quarterback and offensive line. Johnson said he’s not sure how the new roster, which features 30 new players, will fare.

“I don’t know. We’ll find out,” Johnson said. “Their QB returns, their running back returns, their middle ’backer returns. We’re replacing a lot of guys. Both teams have talent. Their talent started last year. My talent is young.”

Junior safety Cole Madril said the Nighthawks should be able to recover. An opening-night win would be a nice start.

“I think it’s a privilege (to play on Thursday), actually, because we’re the opener for everybody across Tucson, or Southern Arizona. So it’s a big deal,” Madril said.

“I definitely want to get a win this year (against Mountain View) and kind of put them in their place.”

Contact reporter Norma Gonzalez at 520-262-3265 or ngonzalez@tucson.com.

Sports reporter

Norma started at the Star in 2017. She's a sports reporter covering all types of beats. She graduated from the University of Texas–Pan American in 2014 and recently graduated from the Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship program.