A 20-point deficit in the first half was too much for the Ironwood Nighthawks to overcome in Friday’s final game of the regular season against Salpointe Catholic.
With time ticking down in the first quarter, Anthony Beck ran in another Lancers’ touchdown, giving Salpointe a 13-0 lead.
In the second quarter, quarterback Andrew Cota connected with Beck for an 11-yard touchdown, pushing the Lancers to a commanding 20-0 lead over the Nighthawks.
Coach Matt Johnson said Salpointe’s passing game hurt the Nighthawks early, and it was hard to climb out of the first-half hole.
The Ironwood Ridge offense got some momentum in the final drive of the half, turning to go-to player Mitch Fischer.
Fischer finished the game with 147 yards on 24 carries.
The Nighthawks rushed their way to the Lancers’ 22-yard-line, where the drive stalled when quarterback Tyler Williams was sacked for a big loss.
Facing a 4th and 14, the Nighthawks opted for a field goal try. Just as the ball was snapped on the first attempt, which missed to the left, the Lancers called a timeout.
On the second attempt, kicker Brandon Sluder split the uprights just as time expired in the first half.
With Salpointe leading 20-3, the Nighthawks started the third quarter with the ball and all the momentum.
Going back to Fischer, Coach Johnson dialed up the senior tailback for six plays.
With the ball near midfield on the seventh play of the drive, the Lancers’ defense expected another run. Taking advantage, Williams connected with receiver Adam Burgess for 18 yards and a first down in Lancers’ territory.
Williams capped off the 10-play drive by weaving through the Lancers’ defense for a 19-yard touchdown. Williams finished the game with 75 rushing yards.
With the extra point, the Lancers’ lead was cut to 10, with 8:44 left in the third.
In the Lancers’ next offensive possession, Salpointe was driving near midfield when lead receiver Cameron Denson was ejected for punching a Nighthawks’ player.
Two plays layer, the Nighthawks’ defense caught another break when Tyler Johnson stripped the ball, and Tyler Otuafi recovered the fumble.
Starting near midfield, the Nighthawks’ offense went to work, with Fischer and Williams running the ball deep into Lancers’ territory.
After getting inside the Lancers’ 10-yard line, the Nighthawks’ drive stalled.
Facing a 4th and 1 at the 7-yard-line, Coach Johnson called for the field goal.
Sluder’s kick was good, giving the Nighthawks 13 unanswered points, and closing the gap at 20-13 with 1:10 left in the third.
However, the comeback efforts ended in the next Lancers’ drive, when Cota scored from inside the 1-yard-line with 8:38 left in the game.
The Lancers came away with the victory, winning 27-13.
The Nighthawks finished the regular season at 8-2.
On Friday, the Nighthawks will enter the 2011 playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the Division II playoffs.
The Nighthawks will face 11th-ranked Apollo at home Friday night, starting at 7 p.m.
Nighthawks’ coach Matt Johnson said Apollo is a tough draw for the first round of the playoffs.
With an 8-2 record, Apollo will be no pushover for the Nighthawks, Johnson said.
“Their quarterback is a candidate for player of the year, both their losses are top five teams. It’s going to be a real war for us,” he said.
The advantage for the Nighthawks is getting to play at home.
“You can’t beat having the home field advantage with a young team,” said Johnson.
Ironwood Ridge High School will host Apollo in the first round of the Division II State Playoffs. Kick-off is at 7 p.m.