When the Dorados’ helmets came off, so did the coaches’ gloves.

Canyon Del Oro head coach Pat Nugent tossed his easygoing demeanor during last Friday’s postgame huddle, after his squad’s first significant test of the season ended in a self-defeating 13-12 loss to Glendale Cactus.

“What do you want me to do? Babysit you every single day?” Nugent said. “This team needs a wake up call.”

With 21.7 seconds left in the game, refs ruled Cobras quarterback Brody Ray’s one-yard push beneath a scrum of players didn’t cross the goal line.

Then they changed their minds — and a stout Dorado team that entered the evening blanching foes 126-14 failed to repay Glendale Cactus for 2007’s sole regular-season loss.

Cactus’ last-second theatrics could’ve proven moot, had CDO kicker Nick Marshall hit a 27-yard field goal attempt on the Dorados’ 76-yard initial drive, or a pair of two-point conversions not sputtered.

“We can get better in the 50- and 60-point wins, or we can get better in a loss. How we’re going to do that, we’ll find out next week,” Nugent said.

If the weapon-stacked Dorados learn from their slips this Friday at McClintock and resume the beatings, they’ll be part of a Northwest-area football picture that’s yielded few surprises.

On the subject, count Ironwood Ridge’s stellar defense as a less-than-bombshell occurrence.

“Nobody has been able to run the ball on our team,” smiled Nighthawks head football coach Gary Minor.

Minor has good reason to be content.

Through three games, the Nighthawks’ defense stands nearly bulletproof, offering only 13 total points — 10 in their sole loss to Phoenix Pinnacle High School during week one.

“(In the Pinnacle game) I don’t think their team even crossed the 50-yard line,” said Minor, who instead blamed offensive miscues for the loss.

Several of Minor’s seniors stated this season was theirs, one last shot at the school’s first state football title.

But the Nighthawks’ cross-town rivals — Mountain View — labor with young players seeking their 5A-II conference foothold.

After shaking early jitters from a 55-0 home opener loss to Marcos de Niza, the Mountain Lions dispatched Phoenix North and returned home for Friday night’s overtime 20-14 loss to Kofa — a 397-yard offensive blast that sank under penalties and missed field goals.

“We were young, then we made some mistakes and it just got ugly real, real fast,” said head coach Paul Schmidt of their week one performance.

Schmidt pointed to the Mountain Lions’ turnaround between Week 1 and 2 as what could ultimately offer them redemption against Marcos de Niza, and a playoff jaunt.

Mountain View’s potential starts with senior quarterback C. J. Evenson, a dual-threat tosser, who posted 204 aerial and 77 rushing yards last Friday.

“We just have to work hard every day to improve on our skills, our good leadership and role modeling,” Schmidt said.

As one Marana team offers flashes of competition, another wrestles with injuries, and outright outgunned-ness.

“We’ve been snakebit a bit, trying to get our offense going,” said Marana head coach Willie Dudley. “I also thought our defense was going to be better than it was.”

The Tigers’ season has been a tough go, so far.

Friday’s 47-7 loss at Peoria kept the guys searching for their first win, outscored 171-41 overall on the year.

Senior Michael Kivi’s speed staved off a shutout, with a 95-yard fourth-quarter kickoff return.

But a week earlier, senior receiver Justin Faust suffered a broken collarbone against Palo Verde, further hampering a banged-up corps of Tiger wideouts.

“Now it’s time to get the kids back and figure how to go for the second half of the year,” Dudley said.

Marana’s season is a stark contrast to 2007’s 3-2 start. Pusch Ridge’s Lions, however, see déjà vu.

Last year, the Lions opened 0-2 before jumpstarting their season with a shutout win over Baboquivari. Last Friday, they went 1-2 after blasting the same squad 49-0.

First-year varsity coach Bob Vance believes his kids are finding their stance, while first-year senior players, common to small schools, have blossomed into nice surprises.

But with a 9-for-12, 152-yard outing that netted two airborne and two rushing touchdowns, junior quarterback Greg Schimke hasn’t fallen out of the blue.

“Greg’s done a real good job,” Vance said. “I’m more of a run-oriented coach, so he doesn’t get to shine as much as he could.”

When senior running back Andy Knox rejoins the fray this week, Vance’s scheme should even out their record, against a 1-2 Superior team.

“I’m really optimistic,” Vance said. “If we stay focused, I don’t see any reason we can’t win our division.”

While Marana’s stepped away from the 4A-I divisional title fight, a new player emerges onto the scene, as Catalina Foothills breaks out a reinvigorated offense that’s bludgeoned opponents 153-41 overall.

“They want to get better, and you can’t replace that,” said head coach Matt Johnson, installed before season’s launch.

Most of the Falcons’ points came during three straight wins against teams that total a 2-10 record, however. A season opening 34-13 loss came from 2-1 Cienega.

Foothills will face a brutal Sabino team on Friday — one that marks a similar test to the one CDO fumbled last week.

When the Dorados visit the new-look Falcons at their nest on Oct. 10, expect a battle league for bragging rights.

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