With a 45-0 blowout over Catalina Foothills Friday, the Ironwood Nighthawks improved to 8-1 with one more regular-season game left.

However, the final game heading into the high school football playoffs will not be easy. The Nighthawks will be hosting Salpointe this Friday night.

In state power rankings, Salpointe is ranked third in Division II with 393.9 points, while Ironwood Ridge sits in fifth place with 389.1 points.

Chaparral is ranked first, and Cienega is second.

Both teams come into the final game with one loss. Salpointe lost to top-ranked Chaparral 22-21 in the season opener, while the Nighthawks lost to Centennial 21-7 in September.

Ironwood Ridge Coach Matt Johnson said he expects a good game between two of the state’s top teams.“(The Lancers) are a big team,” he said. “They are well coached, and they have an offense fueled by a good quarterback, and a wide receiver who is a big playmaker.”

Sophomore quarterback Andrew Cota has led the Lancers to an 8-1 record, while passing 1,708 yards and 21 touchdowns for the season.

Sophomore wide receiver Cameron Denson averages 12.7 points per game, and is nearing a 1,000-yard season with 957 receiving yards to date.

“With the kind of talent from both teams, it’s going to be a war for four quarters,” said Johnson.

The Nighthawks will continue relying on the strong running from tailback Mitch Fischer and quarterback Tyler Williams.

Fischer has racked up 1,214 yards on 129 carries this season, and Williams has rushed for 763 yards and passed for 738 yards to earn a quarterback rating of 105.

With such a tough game to end the regular season, Johnson said it could have both negative and positive effects on the Nighthawks’ ultimate goal to win a state championship.

With a victory, Johnson said the Nighthawks could be riding high into the first round of the post season.

However, the lingering effects of a loss could impact the team mentally in the first round of the playoffs. where they may not realize that there is no second chance, the only way to move forward in the playoffs is to win.

Kick-off for this Friday’s game is 7 p.m.

Kick-off is Friday, 7 p.m. at Ironwood Ridge High School

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