It was the return of Matt Johnson at Ironwood Ridge during the opening week of high school football in Arizona, but his former team was more than ready.
The Nighthawks beat Johnson and his new Mountain View team 21-7 on Friday under the leadership of first-year head coach James Hardy.
Hardy, who was awarded the game ball after Friday’s victory, said he didn’t have to give the team much motivation going into the “Week Zero” game. Their motivation was staring them in the face from across the field.
Instead, Hardy advised his new team to play with their hearts and with a passion.
“I didn’t have to get them up for this game,” Hardy said. “They were primed and ready to go.”
Senior Fabian Figueroa, who took over the starting quarterback position for Octavio Audry-Cobos, said the team wanted this win bad. They wanted to prove a point.
Figueroa still considers Johnson to be a father figure. He knows his former coach has his reasons for leaving I-Ridge and moving over to Mountain View, and he understands.
“It was something that we had to prove to ourselves, that we’re grown men — and he raised us up,” Figueroa said. “He did a good job and all I’ve got to say is the Padawan has passed the master. Star Wars reference, my bad.”
I-Ridge quickly moved into the red zone on the opening drive, but eventually turned over the ball on downs. On the next drive, the Nighthawks recovered a Mountain View fumble, but weren't able to capitalize on the error and once again suffered a turnover on downs.
After a couple of failed drives that ended in punts, I-Ridge was able to score with 17 seconds left in the first quarter by Cameron Drescher on a 30-yard interception return.
On the ensuing drive, Mountain View got within a yard of scoring, but was held by the I-Ridge defense. The Nighthawks pushed the Mountain Lions back to the 5-yard line and eventually forced them to turn the ball over on downs.
“I knew our defense was going to be our strong point,” Hardy said. “They played a heck of a game. They put us into awesome situations. They stopped, I think, 14 points. Defense played lights out, hands down.”
I-Ridge added to the score on a 52-yard reception by Hudson Thompson and 6-yard reception by Audry-Cobos, to make it 21-0 at the half.
Mountain View responded in the third quarter with a 2-yard rushing score by quarterback Hayden Parson, but wasn't able to do much more.
Even though it wasn’t the result he wanted, Johnson said it was fun to see a lot of his friends at I-Ridge.
“I feel like these kids are going to be working hard,” Johnson said. “I think they’ve got good things coming to them if they just keep grinding. Obviously, we’d like a different result, but I feel pretty confident in the future of the program.”
Both teams have a bye week next Friday. Ironwood Ridge will continue its season at Goodyear Millennium the following week and Mountain View will be in Gilbert to play Higley.
I-Ridge’s Brandon Barrios said the team will continue to hit the weight room, especially during their week off, to try to keep up with the bigger schools like Millennium.
“We can never sleep on the weight room,” he said.