The high-powered offense of the Tucson High Badgers (6-1) proved too much for the defending D-II state champion Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks (5-2) on Friday night.
The 51-30 victory gave the Badgers their sixth win in a row, and marked them as a serious contender in conference play as playoffs approach.
Ironwood Ridge collected a safety early on after Kai Ellingboe blocked an end zone punt to put the Nighthawks up 2-0, but as was a theme all night, whenever Ironwood Ridge found its place on the scoreboard, Tucson High did the same.
The Badgers answered with a touchdown – the only of the quarter between either team – in their next drive on Donovan Moore’s 1-yard quarterback keeper, capping off a 10-play, 75-yard drive.
Moore finished the game with 192 rushing yards to go with 134 yards in the air on 10-13 passing.
The two teams would combine for 35 points in the second quarter, kick-started by a 60-yard rushing touchdown by running back Bryce Coleman to build a 14-2 Badgers lead.
Ironwood Ridge’s defense shortened the gap to 14-9 off of a fumble recovery turned touchdown, but Tucson High drove to the Nighthawks 5-yard line four plays later, leading to a Nick Sandoval touchdown to make it 20-9 after a failed two-point conversion.
The Nighthawks never quit though, and Jake Vartanian was the catalyst behind their determination.
The senior running back rushed for three touchdowns and 296 yards on the night, his first score coming with less than two minutes left in the half after he bounced off a defender and broke free for a 53-yard touchdown. A successful two-point conversion put the Nighthawks within three points – the closest they would come all night.
The Badgers closed out the half with a 98-yard kick return from Elijah Anderson, and started the second half in the same fashion, kicking in a field goal and adding a 10-yard passing score to make it 37-17.
Vartanian kept the Nighthawks’ hopes alive with 1:12 remaining in the third when he went 81 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
But Vartanian’s third touchdown, a 25-yarder, came too late, as the Badgers had built a 51-24 lead with only minutes remaining. Vartanian’s score made it 51-30, but the clock wound out before the Nighthawks could threaten a comeback.
Ironwood Ridge head coach Matt Johnson says despite the loss, there was something to be learned.
“This was a playoff-type game,” he said. “If we’re lucky enough to get into the playoffs, this was a great game to get ready.”
The Nighthawks square off at home against Mountain View on Friday.