As Ironwood Ridge quarterback Tyler Williams put it, “Someone had to pay for last week.”
Referring to the Nighthawks’ first and only loss to the Salpointe Lancers on Oct. 26, Williams and company certainly made the Prescott Badgers pay on Friday night.
It was hardly a surprise that running back Anthony Braunreiter had a lot to do with that. His four touchdowns – three of which came in the first 11 minutes of play – boosted his season total to 21, and led the Nighthawks to a dominating 52-14 victory in the first round of the Division II state playoffs.
While the numbers were representative of the well-oiled Nighthawks offense, the Ironwood Ridge defense did more than its fair share to limit Prescott’s opportunities. Of the Badgers’ eight offensive possessions in the first half, they were forced to punt five times and fumbled twice, both of which were recovered by the Nighthawks.
“I was proud of our defensive effort tonight,” said Williams. “It has a lot to do with good coaching. We have a very disciplined team, and we have smart guys, and our speed helped.”
Ironwood Ridge’s tough defense in turn allowed its offense to do what it has done all season, and done well: score points.
Braunreiter’s first touchdown – a five-yarder – came after he broke free on a 29-yard run to put the Nighthawks in striking distance. His next two scores came from four and two yards out.
“Our offensive line did a great job,” said Braunreiter. “The holes were there all night. Our O-line works hard in practice, and they don’t get a lot of credit they deserve.”
With a field goal added to the tally, and a three-yard rushing touchdown by Cris Thorson, the Nighthawks found themselves with a comfortable 31-0 lead at the beginning of the second quarter. But the sense of urgency didn’t fade.
Just when it looked like the Nighthawks were in a tough spot from their own three-yard line, Williams took charge, breaking through the Badgers’ defensive line and flying down the sideline for a 97-yard touchdown to build a 38-0 lead.
“It was a read play,” said Williams. “We had run it twice prior. The line did a great job, and I found a hole. Jake Matthews gave me a hell of a block to get me down the sideline.”
Williams’ rushing touchdown went with 12 of 15 passing on 203 yards and 100 rushing yards.
“He’s a leader,” said Braunreiter about Williams. “He always picks us up when we need it.”
The Nighthawks would increase their lead to 45-0 after Williams found receiver John Klass 30 yards downfield. Klass outran the Prescott defense to turn the gain into a 65-yard score.
Heading into halftime, the Badgers finally found the end zone on a 15-yard score, but there was little they could do to overcome the huge deficit, which was only increased in the third quarter by none other than Braunreiter, scoring his fourth touchdown on third and goal.
Williams, who has grown used to Braunreiter’s scoring abilities, is still impressed by the running back’s heart.
“We’ve been friends since we were about seven years old,” said Williams. “He’s always been the hardest worker that I’ve ever known. He does the right thing, and he’s always working hard when nobody’s watching. He’s waited patiently for his turn. Last year he was behind Mitch, who was a great running back, and this year he is shining because of his work ethic.”
Braunreiter finished the game with 21 carries for 130 yards.
With the win, the Nighthawks will host another home game on Friday at 7 p.m. against sixth-seeded Apollo High School.
“We’re glad to get this win under the belt, but next week we know is going to be a lot tougher,” said Williams. “We’re going to watch the film, regroup, and form a game plan for the next one.”
Apollo advanced after defeating Horizon 24-20 last week. Should the Nighthawks defeat Apollo, they will face the winner of the contest between Mountain View and Salpointe.
Mountain View upset Cienega 19-17 last week.
When asked about the potential of facing Salpointe again, Braunreiter said, “We’re not really worrying about that right now. We’re focusing on one game at a time, and we will think about that when the time comes.”
The Nighthawks improve to 10-1 on the season.