Canyon Del Oro and Ironwood Ridge high schools are just miles apart, making them an obvious rivalry come high school football season where players are very familiar with each other.

For the third year in a row, the CDO Dorados and Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks will face off in the season opener Friday night at CDO.

“It should be an exciting show for the CDO community and Tucson in general,” said CDO coach Dustin Peace. “It is going to be a packed house at Dorado stadium. The way high school football should be.”

With both schools being in the Amphitheater School District, the players have grown up going head to head against each other, or playing on the same teams.

Now, some play for CDO, others for Ironwood Ridge, and all are focused on one thing – winning.

The two teams will open the new season with a bang Friday night. Plenty of intensity surrounds a game some say will set the tone for the entire year.

Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson said he has no doubt CDO will be on the field ready to compete.

“We’re excited for the season to start,” he said. “It’s great to go up against a first-class team like CDO to open the season.”

However, Johnson said the bottom line is both teams are not looking at this game to decide the season’s success.

“Every team starts a new season with one goal in mind – to win a state championship,” he said.

Peace said the season opener will be a good one.

“Any time you have a semi-final team (Ironwood Ridge) and a state runner-up (CDO) playing against each other, it should be an exciting match-up,” he said. “First games are always interesting because you are not exactly sure what your opponent is going to do. In a match-up like this, it is about who can make the least amount of early-season mistakes. Last year, we played a bit sloppy. We are looking forward to a better start to this season.”

CDO currently holds the edge, beating Ironwood Ridge last season 26-13, and in 2009, won 27-13.

With the kick-off just days away, all eyes will be on CDO’s offense, and how it will handle big changes.

Last season’s leading rusher, Ka’Deem Carey, graduated in June. Now, the Dorados will turn to Jason Vartanian at tailback.

In last season’s opener, Carey rushed for 180 yards against the Nighthawks.

Vartanian said he knows he has big shoes to fill, and so his debut against Ironwood Ridge means a lot.

“It’s the game to play,” he said. “I have a lot of friends there. My brother went to school there. But, even though I have those friends, I will go into the game and play for my team. There’s no way I am backing down.”

Returning to the field for the Nighthawks is starting tailback Mitch Fischer.

In last year’s opener, Fischer rushed for 177 yards against the Dorados’ defense.

After losing two years in a row, Fischer said one of his senior-year goals is to go out on top, which means finally defeating the Dorados.

Fischer noted while it is just another game on the Nighthawks’ path to state, it is still an important game to many players.

“They (the Dorados) are a good program, so beating them in the first game of the season would say a lot about our team,” he said.

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