High stress, near-total isolation, and nerve-wracking pressure. It’s all part of the daily life of a defensive back, prompting San Francisco 49ers defender Eddie Lewis to once compare playing cornerback to “ … being on an island; people can see you but they can’t help you.”
At times during Ironwood Ridge’s Friday night visit to Tucson High, the Badgers’ passing game was so effective it looked as though the island might crumble away, leaving the Nighthawks’ one-loss record and top-five state ranking afloat.
The Nighthawks looked lackluster early on Friday, then broke out late to beat the Badgers 55-26. Ironwood Ridge takes a 6-1 mark into Friday’s Homecoming game with Rincon (2-5).
“They really exposed us; there is no question we came out flat,” said Ironwood Ridge coach Gary Minor.
Then Ironwood Ridge sophomore quarterback Tyler D’Amore threw the secondary a life preserver.
D’Amore threw for a touchdown and ran for one more in the waning minutes of the second quarter, and the Nighthawks, who trailed by as much as 16-6, entered halftime with a 20-16 lead.
Twenty minutes later, Ironwood Ridge roared out of the locker room and took control. The Nighthawks scored a quick touchdown on a 78-yard pass from D’Amore to senior wideout Josh Campbell, and held the Badgers to a turnover on downs.
Then time stopped. A serious hip injury to Tucson High defensive back Glen Meriweather and the ensuing wait for paramedics halted play for more than 30 minutes. After watching their teammate strapped to a cart and wheeled across the artificial turf of T. Gridley Stadium to a waiting ambulance, the Badgers deflated.
Ironwood Ridge controlled the rest of the third quarter, and a long drive over the still-visible tracks of the emergency crew culminated in a bruising nine-yard touchdown run by standout Nighthawk running back Jake Fischer.
Tucson High stormed back to score on the first series of the fourth quarter on a drive lasting a little more than three minutes, utilizing a lightning-quick combination of scrambling and long passes by Peter Borquez, and ending in an eight-yard touchdown strike to Daniel Malone.
“They have such dangerous skill players, they are extremely fast,” said Minor.
A field goal on the Badgers’ next possession brought them within a touchdown, 34-26. It was as close as they would come.
The Nighthawk defensive backfield stiffened, allowing no more points despite a Tucson High fourth quarter game-plan that completely abandoned the run, instead deploying four or five wide receivers nearly every down.
“We bent, but we did not break,” said Fischer, the linebacker.
The Nighthawk running game overwhelmed the Badgers’ defense.
Junior running back Adrian Brahler and senior quarterback Chris Harris rushed for touchdowns on Ironwood Ridge’s next two possessions, putting the Nighthawks ahead, 48-26.
With two minutes left, freshman running back / linebacker Mitch Fischer, not to be outdone by big brother Jake, gave Nighthawk fans a glimpse of the future. Breaking through Badger tacklers, the younger Fischer took a handoff and churned 35 yards up the home team’s sideline for what would be the game’s final score, ending the contest at 55-26.
Ironwood Ridge gained 458 yards of total offense, 313 yards on the ground, while giving up 43 yards rushing to Tucson High. The Nighthawks struggled with pass defense; Borquez threw for 255 yards with three interceptions and three touchdowns, including long completions of 24, 32, 34 and 41 yards.
“We need to go back to the drawing board a little on defense,” said Fischer.
Despite Rincon’s 2-5 record, Jake Fischer is taking things one week at a time.
“We are definitely not going to overlook them, they have a lot of athletes, just like Tucson High does,” said Fischer.
“It is another league game, and it is homecoming, we have to come out ready to play,” said Minor.
Caution aside, Coach Minor believes the Nighthawks will continue to be dangerous for anyone they face.
“Physically, we are a force, and I think it’ll be hard for any team to match up with us,” he said with a small smile.