In the 2012 regular season, one game prevented Marcos de Niza from reaching perfection. In week five Tucson's Ironwood Ridge came to Tempe and the Nighthawks went back to the Old Pueblo with a road win over the Padres.
On Friday night at Campo Verde High School, No. 3 Ironwood Ridge once again left the East Valley victorious after a 35-21 win over No. 2 Marcos de Niza in the Division II semifinals.
The Nighthawks will face Peoria Centennial in the championship game next Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
“We have all the talent in the world, sometimes it takes more than talent to be successful," Lopez said. "This group worked real hard. (Ironwood Ridge offensive line) is pretty good. They pretty much controlled the game.”
The Padres (11-2) came out and drove 80 yards in just six plays and scored the opening touchdown of the game on a nine yard run by Mauriece Lee.
Lee was responsible for 71 yards on the drive as he rushed for 60 yards and caught an 11 yard pass from Josh Eckley. After that drive however it was all Ironwood Ridge as the Padres offense was shut down by the aggressive Nighthawks. Lee would finish the game with 154 yards rushing on 21 carries but may have been hampered by what Lopez referred to as an ankle injury he suffered in practice.
Ironwood Ridge (12-1) only led 12-7 at halftime despite 205 yards rushing in the first half alone. Its final drive of the first half stalled when Dominique Fenstermacher intercepted a fourth-down pass at the 1-yard line with under a minute left.
Anthony Braunreiter rushed for 140 yards in the first half and scored both Nighthawk touchdowns. He finished the game with 279 yards rushing on 33 carries with four touchdowns and two 2-point conversion runs.
“The O-line did a great job," Braunreiter said. "I give all the credit to the offensive line. Holes were there all night.”
Trailing 28-7, the Padres fought back and twice cut the lead to 14 after touchdown runs by Eckley of eight and nine yards, respectively, in the fourth quarter.
Ironwood Ridge, however, had an answer each time and ran out the clock again deep in Marcos' territory.
For the Padres, it is the end of an impressive run with a outstanding group of seniors a few of whom will go on to play at Division I schools.
Lee already has committed to the University of Arizona; Paul Elvira is a verbal commit to U of A while Priest Willis is widely considered the best player in state and has offers from both big in-state schools and traditional powerhouses such as Florida, LSU, USC and Nebraska.
But the Padres never won a state title with this senior class.
“I am really proud of our seniors," Lopez said. "They are some talented football players and (Ironwood Ridge) took us out of our game. I am proud of our boys. They played their hearts out.”
Ironwood Ridge 35, Marcos de Niza 21
Ironwood Ridge 6 6 8 15 -- 35
Marcos de Niza 7 0 0 14 -- 21
First downs: IR 21, MDN 14
Rushing: IR 61-446, MDN 33-184
Passing yards: IR 27, MDN 86
Comp-Att-INT: IR 2-6-1, MDN 8-18-1
Fumbles-lost: IR 0-0, MDN 0-0
Penalties-Yards: IR 9-60, MDN 6-30
MDN - Lee 9 run (Jones kick)
IR - Braunreiter 3 run (kick blocked)
IR - Braunreiter 27 run (pass failed)
IR - Williams 6 run (Braunreiter run)
IR - Braunreiter 7 run (Braunreiter run)
MDN - Eckley 8 run (Jones kick)
IR - Braunreiter 5 run (Farmer kick)
MDN - Eckley 9 run (Jones kick)