Last Friday morning, hours before going on to beat Ironwood Ridge 27-13 in its season opener, the Canyon Del Oro football team gathered with new head coach Dusty Peace to watch some game film.
The film session didn't feature this year's Dorados. It focused on the last two games CDO played against crosstown rival Ironwood Ridge. Those contests, both played in 2006, resulted in two Dorado losses.
"It was very quiet, " said CDO junior running back Ka'Deem Carey. "You could just see the looks on (the team's) faces – they didn't want that to happen again.
"That really helped us and boosted us up," he added. "We didn't want to have that feeling again."
It was anything but quiet when the Nighthawks came calling on Friday, as an estimated 3,000 fans packed the home and visitors' bleachers, eventually spilling onto the grassy hills and loose dirt nearby, creating a heavy haze around the field.
But Carey and the Dorados, who face perennial 4A-II power Santa Rita this Friday, didn't have to worry about a repeat of 2006 for too long. Carey scored three touchdowns and rushed for 190 yards in the CDO triumph.
Both teams struggled to gain offensive momentum in the season opener on a hot night.
In the second quarter, a blocked Ironwood Ridge field goal attempt recovered at the CDO 25-yard line gave way to an 11-play drive, culminating in a 6-yard touchdown pass from the Dorados' senior quarterback Mike Lewis to senior wide receiver Josh Robbins. Junior Tilghman Harvey converted the point-after to give CDO a 7-0 lead with 6:22 remaining in the half.
It took just over a minute for the Nighthawks to reply.
Ironwood Ridge, which hosts Mesa Skyline at home next week, stormed back to score on the next series. Junior quarterback Tyler D'Amore hurled a 22-yard pass to senior running back Adrian Brahler, and followed with a 45-yard touchdown bomb to junior wideout Austin Ballard with 5:15 left in the quarter. Senior Ben Ambrosio came in to kick the extra point, knotting the game 7-7.
The Nighthawks had little time to celebrate.
On the ensuing kickoff, CDO's Carey went back to receive, bounced the ball off his chest at the 10-yard line, picked it up at the 20 and proceeded to slice his way through coverage before breaking free for an 80-yard touchdown return.
"He's got natural instincts," said first-year Ironwood Ridge head coach Matt Johnson. "There's just some things you can't teach. I think a lot of teams this year are going to have a hard time with that."
The Dorados remained ahead for the rest of the game, as Carey went on to complement the return with two more rushing touchdowns – first, a 6-yarder in the third quarter, and then another from 20 yards out with 5:23 left in the game.
Ironwood Ridge notched a final score on a 1-yard plunge by Brahler after a bad snap shot over Lewis' head in the waning minutes and was recovered by the Nighthawks deep in CDO territory.
The loss put a damper on Johnson's head coaching debut with the Nighthawks.
"I'm not into these coaches that point the finger at the kids," he said after the game. "I'm going to do a better job next week, the staff is going to do a better job next week, and we're going to do our best to help our kids do a better job.
"We're in this together," he added.
While Johnson saw room for improvement, he also pointed to a number of positives.
"For being a big rivalry game, it was classy on the field for both teams," he said. "My hat's off to CDO, coach Peace did a great job and I have nothing but respect for their program."
As for the Nighthawks' prospects, Johnson remains optimistic.
"In spite of the loss, I'm very proud of my team," he said. "My kids really competed with a great program, and I think we're close to being pretty good."
"It's just going to take us some time, and tonight was one of those lessons," he added.
Ironwood Ridge may still be learning, but a few bright spots could provide building blocks for the future.
Brahler finished the game with 128 all-purpose yards, and senior wide receiver Logan Bailey reeled in four receptions for 60 yards.
Quarterback D'Amore completed 55 percent of his passes, throwing for 183 yards, as well as using his quickness to run for 24 yards and thwart numerous sack attempts.
First-year CDO head coach Dusty Peace was impressed by Ironwood Ridge's play during the game.
"There's no doubt Ironwood Ridge is a tough opponent," he said. "They're going to be a playoff team and they've got a long season ahead of them."
As for the Dorados, Carey's dominance on the ground allowed CDO to limit the number of pass attempts for rookie starter Lewis (7 of 11 passes for 69 yards with two interceptions), but the receiving corps responded when called upon, making the Dorados' offense into a multi-dimensional threat against the Nighthawks.
Robbins ended the game with one touchdown and 25 yards on three catches, and senior Kelton Beattie pulled in four passes for 44 yards.
On defense, physical play from junior linebacker Bobby Henkel, dubbed the Dorados' "number one" newcomer by Peace in the preseason, and the imposing front line presence of 6-1, 208-pound senior Colby Tigges aided in stifling the Nighthawk attack.
"We were physical up front — we did what we wanted to do," said Peace. "We ran the ball and we were successful doing it. Any time you're able to control the line of scrimmage, you're going to be successful."