Call it the Iron / Gold Canyon Classic. Or the District Dogfight.

The search for a colorful moniker to describe the season-opening football showdown between the Canyon Del Oro Dorados and the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks yields some interesting possibilities.

CDO head coach Dusty Peace says only one word can convey what the atmosphere will be like when the Nighthawks come calling at 7 p.m. Friday: "rocking."

"The last time we played them, (in 2006) this place was crazy," said Peace. "The crowd would stand up and just roar - and I'm talking about for a five-yard play."

Ironwood Ridge head coach Matt Johnson agrees.

"It's an old-fashioned neighborhood rivalry, we know their stands are going to be packed," said Johnson, whose team will have make a 10-minute trek, or about 6-1/2 miles, to get to the game site.

Geographical proximity is not the only thing the two programs share.

Johnson and Peace are both first-year head coaches taking over leadership of successful programs with track records of winning locally and on the state level.

Johnson, who moved to the Nighthawks after successful stints as head coach at Rincon and Catalina Foothills, takes over at Ironwood Ridge on the heels of the most successful season in school history, including a 10-3 record and a trip to the state semifinals.

Peace, taking the reigns from mentor and current Pima Community College head coach Pat Nugent, is stepping into his first head coaching job after assisting on CDO teams that, among other things, went 11-2 last season, and made it all the way to the state championship game in 2007.

The similarities don't end there - both schools saw some big-name players graduate last season.

For CDO, all-time touchdown leader Griffin Ronstadt moved on to play for Nugent at PCC, as did Ryan Retz, a standout on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Doug Steele moved on to college after a successful 2008 campaign with the Dorados.

Ironwood Ridge's dynamic linebacking duo of Ray Cottman and Jake Fischer had to be replaced this season, as Fischer, (also key as a runner for the Nighthawks) will be wearing a University of Arizona jersey, and Cottman graduated. In addition, last year's leadingĀ  receiver Scott Campbell joins former rivals Ronstadt and Retz at PCC this season.

That was then and this is now, and both coaches feel certain their teams are more than ready to kick off a new season.

"I think the kids are thankful (games are about to start), they're pretty tired of hitting each other," said Johnson. "We're ready for the excitement that surrounds football at Ironwood Ridge."

"There's no reason we shouldn't win every game this year - we're a talented team, we've just got to play well," said Peace.

While both coaches are happy with the prospects of a new season, neither said preparation for the opener changed the level of coaching intensity.

"We coach the same way for every game, it doesn't matter who we play," said Peace. "We focus on what we're doing."

Johnson echoed the sentiment.

"We always practice hard, and that doesn't change with who our opponent is," he said.

Both did acknowledge the players were having a slightly harder time keeping the rivalry out of mind.

"The players do take it a little more personally because it's Ironwood Ridge," said Peace with a smile.

"We're just trying to keep them calm, we don't want the excitement of this game to force mental errors," said Johnson.

"The kids know each other, it's a big-time rivalry - I said 'CDO' the other day (at practice) and right away had four kids forget their plays," he added with a laugh.

There is ample talent there to keep the sure-to-be capacity crowd entertained.

Peace pointed to the healthy return of senior defensive back/wide receiver Josh Robbins and junior defensive back/running back Ka'Deem Carey, both the recipients of numerous post-season all-star appointments as two main strengths for the Dorados.

And that's not all.

"(Senior wide receiver/cornerback) Kelton Beattie has been doing a great job for us, and so have (junior running back/defensive back) Eddie Smith, (senior wide receiver/defensive back) Jared Tevis, and (senior offensive/defensive lineman) Colby Tigges," he added.

If teams might be thinking of focusing on an inexperienced quarterback as a weak point, think again, said Peace.

"(Senior) Mike Lewis has far exceeded expectations," said Peace. "The great thing about him is his ability to be taught, to take what he hears and really go with it."

Another fresh face will look to cause some havoc on the defensive side of the ball.

"Our number one newcomer is (junior) Lucas Henkel," said Peace. "He'll be playing some linebacker for us and play fullback - he's a top linebacker and can catch the football."

On the Ironwood Ridge side, the quarterback and running back positions are manned by veterans, as fleet-footed junior Tyler D'Amore and senior Adrian Brahler (the quick counterpoint to Fischer's brawn last season), return to an offense that scored early and often last season. While Jake is gone, little brother Mitch Fischer, who saw time on varsity as a freshman last season and broke some big runs, including a memorable sideline spring against Tucson High, will look to continue the family legacy at Ironwood Ridge.

While the Nighthawks lost much of their production at wide receiver with Campbell's graduation, Johnson is confident that junior Trevor Westley and senior Jake Allen will be able to fill the void.

"I think we've got some really talented receivers than can step up and make opponents respect our passing game," said Johnson. "They really improved week-to-week throughout the summer."

In the trenches, Johnson points to offensive/defensive linemen Dylan Urton (senior) and Tanner Todd (junior) as leaders of a young group.

These players bring about a great deal of respect from the two coaches.

Johnson, for one, realizes that CDO's combination of Carey and Robbins will be a tough one to stop.

"The only way to prepare for those guys might be a religious one," said Johnson with a chuckle, implying that prayer might be the only answer to stifling the duo's explosiveness.

On Peace's side, D'Amore's ability to move around in the pocket and outside of it has been duly noted.

"He looks quick on film, he's a scrambler," said Peace.

All that preparation, the hours watching film, sweating in the weight room and on the field, come to a head Friday night at 7 p.m., and both coaches said they're ready for the whirlwind of the regular season to start with what Johnson calls a "showcase game."

"We're excited that Friday nights are here," said Johnson. "We're excited that football is here."

"We know we're walking into the lion's den," he added. "We like this game because they're a great program and it will show us where we're at and what we need to do for the rest of the season."

Peace has some advice for those wanting to come out to watch the all-Oro Valley tussle.

"I've been telling my family and friends to get here at 6:15 or 6:30 p.m. at the latest," he said with a grin. "Because there won't be any seats left after that."

2009 Ironwood Ridge football

Aug. 28 - at Canyon Del Oro

Sept. 4 - Mesa Skyline

Sept. 11 - at Laveen Chavez

Sept. 17 - Cienega

Sept. 25 - Salpointe Catholic

Oct. 2 - at Rincon / University

Oct. 9 - Tucson

Oct. 16 - Sierra Vista Buena

Oct. 23 - at Sunnyside

Nov. 6 - at Mountain View

2009 Canyon Del Oro football

Aug. 28 - Ironwood Ridge

Sept. 4 - at Santa Rita

Sept. 11 - Tucson

Sept. 17 - at Queen Creek

Sept. 25 - at Nogales

Oct. 2 - Scottsdale Saguaro

Oct. 9 - at Catalina Foothills

Oct. 16 - at Flowing Wells

Oct. 23 - Pueblo

Nov. 6 - Sabino

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