When the 2012 season was first getting under way, Ironwood Ridge Coach Matt Johnson and the Nighthawk players were clear on their goals. The first was to get past the semifinals in the state playoffs, a round they failed to win for three straight seasons. The second goal was to win it all and become the Division II State Champions.
On Nov. 16, the Nighthawks achieved the first major goal, defeating Marcos de Niza in the semifinals.
On Nov. 24, the primary objective to become the best was achieved, as the Nighthawks routed Centennial 27-3, with most of the points coming in the second half.
After the game, Johnson said he is ecstatic for his players, and is happy all the hard work and dedication paid off in the end.
“Centennial is a good team,” he said. “We caught a lot of breaks tonight. The game plan was to run, but we knew we would do whatever it takes to win.”
Throughout the season, the Nighthawks relied on the sure footing of senior tailback Anthony Braunreiter, and senior quarterback Tyler Williams. Braunreiter had a career-high 1,766 yards for the season, while Williams rushed for 1,143 yards.
In the state championship game, the running game was almost nonexistent and the Nighthawks’ offense struggled to stay on the field in the first half, while the defense struggled to get off the field on third and fourth down.
Centennial moved the ball with ease between the numbers, but had several drives stall in the red zone.
The Coyotes got on the board first, scoring a field goal to take a 3-0 lead in the second quarter. The Coyotes were in the red zone several times in the first half, missing two field goals, and having two drives stall.
The Ironwood Ridge offense ran four total plays in the first quarter, and didn’t get on the board until late in the first half.
The Nighthawks caught a break when Centennial muffed a punt, and Clay Allen recovered the loose ball, giving Ironwood Ridge a first down at the Coyotes’ 29-yard line.
With little success in the running game, Williams went to the air, connecting with John Klass for a 24-yard touchdown with 8:48 left in the first half. With the extra point, the Nighthawks led 7-3.
Williams credited the Centennial defense in the first half.
“Yards were tough to come by,” he said. “Before the game, Coach (Johnson) said we would take what they would give us. They gave us the pass, and that’s what we took. To be a championship team, you have to play to win.”
Williams was 5-7 for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Both teams failed to score any more points in the first half, giving Ironwood Ridge the 7-3 advantage heading into halftime.
In the second half, the Nighthawks set the tone early with Braunreiter scoring from 8 yards out, capping off a 14-play drive. With the extra point, the Nighthawks led 14-3 with 6:48 left in the third quarter.
While Centennial moved the ball with ease in the first half, the Coyotes struggled with penalties and converting third downs in the second half.
With 51 seconds left in the third, it was the Nighthawks’ defense that made the play of the game. As Centennial quarterback Tre’von Grant dropped back to set up the screen, senior Jake Matthews read the play and leaped in the air to knock it down. Scott Simmons was in position to grab the interception, turning around and running six yards to pay dirt. With the missed extra point, the Nighthawks took a commanding 20-3 lead with 51 seconds left in the third.
After the game, Matthews said he thought Grant dropped back further than normal, and knew it must be a screen because the offensive line let him go free. Staying in position, Matthews said Scott was in a perfect spot to make a big play.
Simmons gave Mathews all the credit.
“It’s all credit to him on that play,” he said. “I was just in a good position to make a play that helped the team win.”
To seal the victory, Braunreiter broke through the offense for a 36-yard touchdown, putting the Nighthawks lead 27-3 with 7:33 left in the game. With the 36-yard run, Braunreiter finished the game with 81 yards on 23 carries. Williams finished with 54 rushing yards.
After three years of losing in the semifinals, Braunreiter said it’s hard to describe how good winning the state championships feels.
“It was hard in the first half, but I knew we just had to keep going,” he said. “The offensive line just kept blocking for me, and we just kept grinding and fighting for yards. They did a great job in the second half. I knew we could win this game, we just had to keep fighting.”
After playing a mistake-free game, Coach Johnson made a case for Williams to be named the State Player of the Year.
“I have a lot of respect for Jalen Ortiz (Centennial tailback), but Tyler Williams deserves consideration.”
With the victory, the Nighthawks finished the season 13-1, winning the school’s first football state championship.
The lone loss came against Salpointe Catholic, which lost to Centennial in the semifinals.
Nighthawks 2012 season
(W) Canyon del Oro36-0
(W)Marcos de Niza35-27
(W) Mountain View42-14
(W) Flowing Wells62-0
(W) Catalina Foothills56-0
(L) Salpointe Catholic30-14
(W) Marcos de Niza35-21