A bomb goes off in prep football…lit by Ironwood Ridge

There were some memorable games in Week 6 of high school football.  But none will be remembered for as long as the one that shook southern Arizona Friday night.

Yes, Brophy Prep, the No. 4-ranked team in Division I, upset top-ranked Mountain Pointe High School by handing The Pride their first loss of the season – and doing it in convincing fashion as tailback Marche Dennard rushed 26 times for 264 yards to lead the Broncos to the 54-28 win.

And if you like high-scoring games, there was the meeting in Division II between No. 3 Desert Vista High School and No. 4 Saguaro High.  When the dust cleared, the two teams had combined for 91 points – thanks in large part by another impressive night by a running back.

Jarek Hilgers, Desert Vista’s prolific senior running back, gobbled up 273 yards on 20 carries, putting up half of the team’s total touchdowns.  The performance is believed to have set a school record.

And, in Division III, there were a couple of games that really didn’t mean much – but continue setting the stage for the biggest shootout in the White Mountains each year.  The game between Lakeside’s Blue Ridge High and neighboring Show Low High School is recognized as one of the biggest rivalries in the state.

This week, undefeated Blue Ridge dispatched St. Johns High School, the No. 5 team in Division V, in a 45-0 blowout.  And Show Low walked all over Holbrook High School, 52-8.

Just three games down the road, these two teams will meet again.  Both are showing the offensive dominance that has become the expected each year, as Blue Ridge has outscored its opponents so far, 296-48, and Show Low has posted a 233-51 margin of victory.

BUT… the game of the week has to be the Ironwood Ridge High School win over Peoria’s Centennial High.  At first glance, it didn’t look like a major upset since it was the No. 3 team in Division II beating the No. 1 team.

However, to the fans in the southern part of the state, it was huge.  It helped tilt the prep football landscape away from the schools in the Phoenix area, where those teams have held the upper hand for so many years.  According to a recent article in the Arizona Daily Star, teams from the Tucson area have won just nine of the last 77 possible state titles in all categories.

To be specific, Ironwood Ridge High School resides in Oro Valley, a city of about 45,000 on the outskirts of Tucson.  But it definitely represents the southern part of the state – in a big way.

The 28-24 upset that Ironwood Ridge pulled off last Friday is a ray of hope for those schools down south that are generally hard-pressed to match up because of undermanned rosters, less support from administrations in the schools, or just an imbalance in training facilities that result from smaller athletic budgets.

But when John Klass intercepted a pass from Centennial’s much-heralded quarterback, Tre’von Grant, with 16 seconds on the game clock… it marked the second impressive win in a row for the Ridge, and gave the entire Tucson area a boost in spirit.

Keep in mind, Centennial isn’t just any ol’ team.  The Coyotes have amassed 305 points so far this season, putting up at least 48 points an outing.  In the past six years, they have won 82 of 88 games and picked up three state titles along the way.

Most of the sports writers on the ‘other side’ of the state had already buried the Ridge, long before the kick-off took place.  Richard Obert, who has been covering high school sports for The Arizona Republic for decades, called Centennial “the most dominant football team at any level.”  His prediction for Friday’s game: “Not even close.”

But evidently the reputation and gaudy stats didn’t intimidate the Ironwood Ridge defense, which tore into the Centennial backfield with regularity.  The Ridge ‘D’  was able to sack Grant eight times, forcing him to fumble on three occasions.  He likely had nightmares all weekend about being chased by big blue and white monsters.

The Ridge linebackers were brutal.  Scott Simmons recorded three sacks by himself, and also recovered a fumble and disrupted several pass plays.  Jake Matthews got to the QB several times to put him on the ground, and then recovered a fumble and caused another – and added an interception to his night’s work.

Centennial scored on the opening drive when Joe Navarro kicked a 22-yard field goal to give the Coyotes a 3-0 lead.  But it was all Ridge after that.  A couple of short-yardage touchdown runs by QB Tyler Williams put the Ridge up 14-3 before the first quarter closed.

The Coyotes still trailed 21-10 at the half and then got within four points late in third quarter, 21-17.  But Williams hit Julian Figueroa with a 14-yard scoring passing with 10 minutes left in the game, giving the Ridge a 28-17 lead that would hold for the win.

Centennial reached mid-field on their final drive before the interception by Klass of Grant’s third-down pass attempt shut it down.  Grant threw for 237 yards in the losing effort, while Williams had 179 combined yards of offense.

So the Ridge will take their unblemished 6-0 record into a game next week against Mesa’s Mountain View High, and this time they won’t be considered the underdog against a 4-2 opponent that started strong with three straight wins, but has sputtered lately.

Interestingly, the only losses for Mountain View have come against Salpointe Catholic and Tucson High – two other southern schools.

On Friday night, Ironwood Ridge wants to make it a trifecta.  And continue its march to the playoffs.