In a playoff-like atmosphere before a huge crowd, Canyon del Oro opened defense of its state championship at Ironwood Ridge on Friday, using three Tilghman Harvey field goals and a strong running game to beat the Nighthawks, 26-13.
Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 180 yards to help pace a powerful CDO ground game that netted 270 yards. But the Nighthawks kept the Dorado star, who scored 43 touchdowns a season ago, out of the end zone all night.
"They did a great job defensively," Carey said. "Jason (McBrayer) really helped. If I'm slacking, he picks me up."
McBrayer, in his first start at quarterback, demonstrated leadership and scored a late touchdown to seal the verdict for the Dorados, who were undefeated a season ago and came from behind Friday. His play helped CDO overcome a 177-yard, two-touchdown running performance by Nighthawk junior Mitch Fischer.
With the overhead clouds of pink, purple, blue and gold just before game time, it seemed even the heavens knew this was more than a mere regular-season game.
On the second Nighthawk possession, after a CDO turnover, Fischer broke off a 53-yard run to take the ball to the CDO 23. A few plays later, Fischer went 14 yards for a touchdown. Ironwood Ridge led 6-0.
The Dorados were about to get in the end zone after McBrayer found newcomer Blake Martinez for 39 yards to the Ridge 1. A penalty, and a loss on a running play, stalled the drive. CDO had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Harvey, who used a strong right leg to boot several kickoffs out of the end zone.
Another CDO turnover ended a run-dominated drive. In turn, the Nighthawks offense could do nothing. Pinned near their own goal line, the Nighthawks punted, and CDO big man Jesse Caldwell blocked the kick out of the end zone for a safety, making it 6-5.
CDO had just enough time to score before the half. With great field position, Carey broke a 12-yard run to the Ridge 31. Runs by Carey and Eddie Smith took CDO to the Ridge 17, but the drive stalled, and Harvey kicked a 34-yard field goal to give CDO an 8-6 halftime lead.
Carey sustained a right high ankle sprain late in the first half. That was cause for concern at the time, but Carey wasn't through yet.
"He had a hell of a game," said CDO coach Dustin Peace. "He was banged up in the first half. Ka'Deem made some key blocks."
On the first play of the second half, Fischer broke to the outside and raced down the right sideline 85 yards to pay dirt for a 13-8 Ironwood Ridge lead.
But the Dorados struck back against a front-loaded Nighthawk defense. McBrayer found Martinez again for 34 yards to the Nighthawks 28. Next, McBrayer ran for nine yards. Carey had a 10-yard run for a first down.
From the eight, McBrayer hooked up with Smith for a touchdown. Carey ran it in for two points to give CDO a 16-13 lead it would not relinquish.
"They loaded the box," Peace said. "We're going to have to find a way to pass this year."
The pivotal play may have been a play that wasn't.
On third and 10 from his own 30, Ridge senior quarterback Tyler D'Amore threw the ball downfield. With defenders hanging all over him, receiver Trevor Wesley made the catch around the CDO 30-yard line. It appeared the Nighthawks had re-established momentum.
Instead, the play was waived off due to offsetting penalties. Ridge had been called for blocking below the knees, which brought the ball back to the Nighthawks own 30. They never threatened again.
"Below the knees on a blitzing linebacker," said Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson. "The refs made the right call."
Harvey kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 19-13 CDO lead.
"He did a phenomenal job," Peace said. "He has a great leg. He might get a scholarship."
McBrayer completed the scoring with a 10-yard run. "It was impressive that he got the corner," Peace said of his quarterback, who had several long runs on the drive.
The Oro Valley rivalry match-up may serve to foreshadow what's in store for both Oro Valley schools in 2010. Ironwood Ridge is improved. And CDO is everyone's target. Defenses may load the box for Carey, and in turn force McBrayer to beat them through the air. CDO hosts Santa Rita this Friday, and the Nighthawks travel to Mesa Skyline.
"I'm really proud of my kids," Johnson said. "They did a lot of things well. Mitch, D'Amore, our O-line did a great job."
"I was fired up for this one," Fischer said. "I felt like I left it on the field."
D'Amore completed 10 of 18 passes for 72 yards and no interceptions. McBrayer was six for 11 for 101 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. Martinez caught four passes for 94 yards in his first game for CDO. Wesley, in spite of the "non-catch," finished with six catches for 43 yards.
Amphi 60, Marana 13
The Tigers opened their season with a home loss to Amphi, 60-13. The Panthers, who run a wishbone attack, made the playoffs last year under legendary coach Vern Friedli.
Addin Soto threw for 121 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers. Jose Zazueta gained 59 yards rushing on seven carries, more than eight yards a pop. Solomon Stokes caught six passes for 28 yards to lead the Tigers.
Defensively, the Tigers gave up 393 yards on the ground.
Marana travels to cross-district rival Mountain View at 7 p.m. this Friday.
Tempe Marcos de Niza 39, Mountain View 7
In coach Justin Argraves first game at the helm, the Mountain Lions fell 39-7 to a Tempe Marcos de Niza team that made it to the 5A Division II title game in 2009.
Cecil Fuentes had 10 tackles to aid the defense. Weston Kimmel broke a long run. In his first start as the team’s new starting quarterback, junior Marcos McMillon became more comfortable as the game progressed.
This week, Mountain View hosts Marana at 7 p.m. Friday.
— Curtis Elliott