The rain didn’t stop the Sahuaro Cougars or Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks from knocking in a couple goals each when they met up for a neutral conference match at Amphitheater High School on Thursday Night. 

Sahuaro looked threatening early on, keeping the Ironwood Ridge defense backtracking after stringing together passes that allowed a couple shot opportunities, though they fell off target.

The Nighthawks began to find an offensive rhythm about 10 minutes in, and nearly collected a goal after a corner kick by Morgan Sibson was fumbled around the six-yard box and almost knocked in by senior defender Madi Kinzer.

Then, in the 23rd minute, Sahuaro capitalized on a long throw in by Allison Raniere. The slick ball bounced around the middle of the Nighthawks’ penalty box before Misty Ruiz found a foot on it to find the back of the net and give the Cougars a one-goal advantage.

From that point on, the game grew progressively more physical, highlighted by a collision between Simmons and Nighthawks’ goalkeeper Morgan Logue that had Ironwood Ridge Head Coach Sean Watkins calling for a yellow card against the Cougars. 

A couple near-goals came from each team before the first half drew to a close. 

Madison McEldowney found a header off a throw in by Jessica Nelson, but the Cougars’ goalkeeper Jarvis Leah came up with the stop.

Sahuaro nearly capitalized on a counter attack, when Anyssa Dagnino dribbled the ball 60 yards downfield to nearly assist Simmons on a goal. 

As the half wound down, it was clear Watkins was unhappy with his team’s first half performance. 

“We were a little bit lazy in the first half, especially in the midfield,” he said. “We definitely had words at halftime. A couple kids got an earful. The work-rate just wasn’t good enough.”

Watkins’ words seemed to register with his players, and register quickly.

On a set kickoff play, the Nighthawks applied offensive pressure on a long downfield ball, which was collected by McEldowney in the 18-yard box. 

As McEldowney maneuvered the ball around her defender, she was tripped, giving her a penalty kick. 

Her shot found the bottom right corner of the net to even the score just 30 seconds into the second half. 

“That play is designed to do what it did,” said Watkins. “When you flood a side like that, and it’s a well hit ball, it forces the defense to do something. Really, you’re hoping for something positive to happen. A throw-in would be the worst of the positive, a corner kick would be great, and a goal would be fantastic. In this case, it was a penalty kick, and it worked out really well. Getting that PK at the start of the second half really mellowed things out for us, let us relax more, and play.”

But Sahuaro didn’t deviate from its offensive aggression. On a downfield push, the midfield found Simmons, who, one-on-one with her defender, drilled a 30-yard shot over the head of the goalkeeper to put Sahuaro back on top.

The impressive shot raised the eyebrows of each team’s bench.

There was a similar look from the benches when sophomore Nighthawk defender Victoria Cooper knocked in a 40-yard shot off a free kick.

“The keeper was going to have to deal with rain in her face anyway, so I told her to put it on the keeper and rush the keeper, and if she drops it we’ll poke it in,” said Watkins. “She hit it so well the keeper didn’t have a shot at it.”

Tied 2-2, the clock would wind down without another goal, despite increased physical play. 

Neither team would score in the two 10-minute overtime periods sealing the game as a draw.

The Nighthawks now hold an 8-4-2 record, and are ranked 17th in the state. They next face Cienega on Dec. 17.

The Cougars, ranked sixth in the state, are now 8-2-1, and face Catalina Foothills on Jan. 8.

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