As Jake Matthews reached up to smack down a pass in the second half of the Division II State Championships, it fell into the ready arms of Scott Simmons, who ran 6 yards for the defensive touchdown, it became clear that the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks were headed to victory.
The Nighthawks shocked Centennial, winning 27-3 en route to become the 2012 Division II State Champions. This was the Nighthawks’ first championship appearance, after losing in the semifinal rounds over the last three years.
Yards were tough for the Nighthawks to come by in the first half. Usually a rushing team, the Nighthawks turned to the pass, with senior Quarterback Tyler Williams leading the charge.
“Before the game, Coach (Matt Johnson) said we would take what they would give us,” Williams said. “They gave us the pass, and that’s what we took. To be a championship team, you have to play to win.”
Coach Johnson said he is ecstatic that all the players’ hard work has paid off, while noting he feels Williams should be named the state player of the year.
After Centennial led 3-0 in the first quarter, Williams connected with John Robert Klass for a 24-yard touchdown, giving the Nighthawks a 7-3 lead with 8:48 left to play in the first half.
Centennial had plenty of opportunities in the first half, as the offense, led by Jalen Ortiz, moved with ease inside the numbers. However, most drives stalled in the red zone with two missed field goals.
At halftime, the Nighthawks held on to a 7-3 lead.
Ironwood Ridge set the tone in the second half, with Anthony Branreiter capping off a 14-play drive to give the Nighthawks a 14-3 lead.
The Centennial offense struggled in the second half with penalties and ball control, with the Nighthawks’ defense making a big play late in the third quarter. As quarterback Tre’von Grant dropped back to set up the screen, Matthews read the play and leaped in the air to knock it down.
Simmons was in position to catch the ball, turning around and running six yards to pay dirt. With the missed extra point, the Nighthawks took a commanding 20-3 lead with 51 seconds left in the third.
After the game, Matthews said he thought Grant dropped back further than normal, and knew it must be a screen because the offensive line let him go free. Staying in position, Matthews said Scott was in a perfect spot to make a big play.
Simmons gave Mathews all the credit for the play.
“It’s all credit to him on that play,” he said. “I was just in a good position to make a play that helped the team win.”
To seal the victory, Braunreiter broke through the offense for a 36-yard touchdown, putting the Nighthawks head 27-3.
After three years of losing in the semifinals, Braunrieter said it’s hard to describe how good winning the state championships feels.
“It was hard in the first half, but I knew we just had to keep going,” he said.
With the victory, the Nighthawks finished the season 13-1, winning the school’s first football state championship.
See more on the 2012 Nighthawks in the Nov. 28 edition of The Explorer Newspaper.