The competitive course of Friday night’s much-anticipated ballgame between Ironwood Ridge and Marana high schools was set on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
The Tigers, who had possession of the ball just inside the 50-yard-line, drew up a trick play that involved a backwards pass from freshman backup quarterback Treyson Bourguet.
The pass found Treyson’s older brother (and Marana’s longtime starting quarterback) Trenton, who reared back, then threw downfield to an open Diego Miranda in the end zone. It was the opening salvo of the game, and gave Marana a 7-0 advantage with 10:42 remaining in the opening quarter.
It was a gut-punch to the hometown Nighthawks, but it wouldn’t knock them down for long. Matt Johnson’s squad had an answer of their own, when senior back Nathan Grijalva took a handoff to the right side and unleashed a tour de force that the Tigers couldn’t contain.
Grijalva stiff-armed his way to paydirt, scoring a 59-yard touchdown to even the score at 7 some 38 seconds later.
The dueling scores gave the impression of a track meet that’d light up the old-fashioned scoreboard at the Oro Valley school.
Such an offensive outpouring never materialized, with Marana slogging its way to a 20-13 win over the Nighthawks, thanks to a handful of crucial stops by its defense.
The Tigers’ defensive unit, led by coordinator Vince Amey, answered the call several times in the game’s second half—stuffing the Nighthawks’ high-powered offense on multiple fourth down tries, giving the team a much-needed victory.
Senior linebacker TJ Cephers, who had several key tackles for the Tigers on Friday, praised Amey’s preparation and energy on the sidelines.
“I think we just came out, and we started off a little rough on defense, but we kept executing the game plan,” Cephers said. “Coach Amey had a real game plan set for them. He just told us, ‘Keep fighting, keep fighting’…It was just a good defensive game.”
The Tigers took a 14-7 lead into the half of Friday’s game, thanks to a crucial interception from senior Diego Miranda in the quarter’s final minutes.
That interception, in combination with a missed Ironwood Ridge field goal in the waning seconds of the quarter, preserved the team’s seven-point lead.
That margin proved vital, as the Nighthawks fought within one, 14-13, in the third quarter, after a punt return touchdown by Kyle Nicolai.
The Nighthawks had a few chances to even the score or take the lead in the fourth, but couldn’t finish drives on several occasions.
Johnson addressed his team’s tough luck loss afterward, describing how close his team came to breaking through when it mattered most.
“We know they're a high caliber playoff team, another one that we've played this year,” he said. “I thought we did a lot of great stuff. We had some good drives. We couldn't score as much as we wanted to, but we had some drives where we got down into the 20, and we'd make some mistakes and stuff, but I think the biggest thing is I thought my kids played super hard. Their effort was great, and we'll watch some film and we'll get better next week.”
Johnson heaped praise on Grijalva, who finished with his sixth 100-yard performance of the season, with 158 yards and two scores on 16 carries.
The longtime Nighthawks coach was proud of the way his team fought through an emotion-filled game, which he said is a microcosm of everything that’s right about high school football.
“That's the great thing about high school sports,” Johnson said. “You're just working with kids and you come out here and you do your best, and you're family, and you see how kids respond to adversity.”
Both squads face daunting contests this coming Friday, Oct. 12, with Marana heading to Vail to take on Cienega, while Ironwood Ridge heads to Sunnyside.
For Coach Louie Ramirez, revenge is on the table next Friday, with the Bobcats defeating Marana in the staff playoffs in 2016 and 17.
“[We have to] stay focused, make sure that we understand that they've got,” Ramirez said. “Cienega's got a great football team. I think that these guys are again going to take it a little bit personal, because they've kicked them out of the playoffs here the past two years, I believe, and it's going to be a fight. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.”
The Bobcats (6-1, 2-0) are currently in first place in the 5A Southern region, with Marana in second place, sitting at 5-2 overall, and 1-1 against region foes. Ironwood Ridge is in a tie for second with the Tigers, at 1-1.
Senior Marana running back Xoeius Ratliffe, who had 109 rushing yards on 29 carries on Friday night, believes the Tigers are ready to get revenge against the Bobcats.
“Cienega is going to be a tough game, but the message we sent tonight, I mean, everybody is slacking on Marana, but we’re here, We’re here to play,” Ratliffe said. “We have to execute just like everybody else…and we're not going down without a fight.”
Bourguet, who finished the night with two passing and one rushing touchdown, is confident his team has what it takes to overcome their missteps in Vail of-late.
“I would definitely say we're just showing the whole state, not just Tucson, but we're here, and we're ready, and we're hungry,” Bourguet said. “So, Cienega, we’re just going to have to go out there, play the best ball that we can, and we’ll see what happens.”