MESA: It was a long road trip back to Tucson for Ironwood Ridge Friday night following the 31-0 shutout loss to Desert Ridge in East Mesa. Continuous struggles on the field kept the goose egg on the board all night long, but the Nighthawks showed no quit the entire game.
“It’s the simple things. It’s the missed steps, the missed blocks. It’s the little things that are hindering us from those big plays,” Nighthawks coach James Hardy said.
Desert Ridge opened up the game driving dominantly down the field, capping it off with a three-yard touchdown run from Jordan Wilson. The extra point was good, putting the Jags on top 7-0 with 8:20 left in the first quarter.
While defense might have given up a touchdown, the tone for the game was set when the ball was fumbled on the snap to senior quarterback Tyler Haynie. Haynie was able to recover the ball, but not before losing nearly 20 yards to start off the game. Not able to dig their way out of the hole, the Nighthawks were forced to punt it back.
Taking nearly no time off the clock, the Jaguars quickly moved the ball 45 yards down the field in two plays to score, this time coming on a 28-yard pass to their tight end. The kick was good, and suddenly Desert Ridge was on top at the midway point in the first quarter.
“We just collapsed in this game,” said Haynie.
Just when it looked like the Night Hawks were finally going to score, an interception puts the ball right back in @DesertRidge_FB’s hands. Only a few minutes remaining in the second and DR is on top 31-0 #DRvsIR pic.twitter.com/z1fI7ngrKu
— Brittany Bowyer (@bbowyer07) September 11, 2021
It looked as if Ironwood Ridge was going to have some momentum after an explosive kick-off return. The offense was feeding off the momentum and continued to progress down the field, but turned the ball over on downs when Haynie was sacked while attempting to score on a fourth and long play in the red zone.
Nighthawks defense was able to dial up their intensity a bit, forcing Desert Ridge to punt after breaking up a pass attempt on a third and long, but the offense couldn’t capitalize. After losing 17 yards, Ironwood Ridge was forced to punt it back, setting Desert Ridge up with nice position on the field.
Attacking both the pass and the run, the Jags were able to break down the Nighthawk defense and cross the goal line one again, with another touchdown pass to their tight end. With around 5:20 to go in the half, Desert Ridge was on top 21-0.
In what would have been a crucial drive for the Nighthawks leading into the half, a fumble on the kickoff put the ball right back into the Jags possession. After taking about four minutes off the clock, Desert Ridge put up the fourth touchdown of the evening.
With just under two minutes remaining, Haynie led the offense back out on the field with hopes of putting points on the board before going back into the locker room. However, the struggles instead continued, with the Jags coming up with an interception.
The final points of the half, and also the game, came on a 51-yard field goal for Desert Ridge, making it 31-0 going into the break.
Offensively, the Jags had absolutely pounced on the Nighthawks in the first half, racking up more than 250 total offensive yards, compared to the Nighthawks less than 50.
Coming back out of the half, the defense made some nice strides of improvement to keep things from getting any worse. They held Desert Ridge to around 100 yards in the second half, and gave up no touchdowns.
“We proved out here that we can fight, but it has to start from the beginning,” junior running back Jordan Thomas said.
Offensively, on the flip side, it was a mixed bag of tricks. While the offensive line was able to open up holes for the running backs, Haynie had two more interceptions in the second half.
Offensive production finally was starting to click at some level, even if it was a low one, and rack up some yards. Despite a rough start, the running backs were able to finish the game with around 125 rushing yards total, all of it coming in the second half.
In terms of passing, Haynie struggled with accuracy, completing only six of his 16 attempts for around 60 yards.
“If we’re gonna talk about after halftime, then that’s the team that we know we can be. Now, of course, we need to be more consistent. But once again, I really feel like if that group comes out and plays like they played in the second half, from first quarter to fourth quarter, it’d be a different outcome,” Hardy said.
The Nighthawks were certainly the underdogs in this one; taking on a bigger 6A team in Desert Ridge, on the road, after a minimal 2020 season. On top of that, their roster is about half the size of the Jaguars, with many playing on both sides of the ball.
While it’s not the ideal outcome, the Nighthawks say the game was what they needed and they’re eager to get back to practice.
“It’s one of those learning experiences that we’re definitely going to learn from” Thomas said.
“We just have to get back to the fundamentals and basics, and just understand that if we stick to the fundamentals and foundation that we can be successful,” Hardy said.
Ironwood Ridge (1-1) will be at home next week, Sept. 16, to host the Campo Verde Coyotes (1-1).
“We just want to come out and compete,” Thomas said.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07