2023 High School Football

HS FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Ironwood Ridge highlights Southern Arizona’s biggest turnarounds

Ironwood Ridge coach Dale Stott was a member of Amphi’s state championship team in 1975 (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Of all the Southern Arizona high schools with winning records after Week 6 — which constitutes roughly half of the regular season — the most impressive turnaround from last season so far belongs to Ironwood Ridge and second-year coach Dale Stott. … Following Friday’s 44-7 road win over a depleted Sahuaro team (without 13 starters, suspended for the game for disciplinary reasons), Ironwood Ridge is 4-1 after finishing 1-9 last season. … That’s a plus-11 turnaround (eight games below .500 to three games above). … The teams with the most impressive reversals to this point and their head coaches:

  • Ironwood Ridge +11 (1-9 in 2022 to 4-1 in 2023) — Dale Stott
  • Catalina +9 (1-9 to 3-2) — Greg McKinstry
  • Amphi +7 (2-8 to 3-2) — Jorge Mendivil
  • Mica Mountain +5 (5-5 to 5-0) — Pat Nugent
  • Tombstone +5 (4-6 to 4-1) — Dominik Bonilla
  • Tanque Verde +4 (5-6 to 4-1) — Jeff Bollnow
  • Bisbee +3 (4-6 to 3-2) — Shawn Holley
  • Salpointe +2 (6-4 to 4-0) — Eric Rogers
Ironwood Ridge QB Dominic Norris has engineered the Nighthawks’ dramatic turnaround from last year to this point of the season (D’Andre Davis/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

Stott was a standout lineman on Amphi’s state championship team in 1975, coached by Jerry Loper. While attending medical school at Arizona, Stott served as an assistant at Santa Rita from 1983-86. Stott, a certified strength and conditioning coach, was offensive line coach at St. George (Utah) Pine View High School from 2003-13 and then from 2019-21. In between, he was coach of semipro teams in St. George. He also coached a pro team in Italy from December 2018 to August 2019. … The ubiquitous Stott co-owns Sloth Cookies in St. George along with his son Logan. He was forced to end his interventional pain management practice in St. George after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “We want to clean up our mistakes,” Stott said about what needs to be done in 5A Sonoran play, which starts with a home game against Flowing Wells next week, to keep the momentum going. “I think our defense is playing hard now. We’re jelling as an offense. I like our chances but we have a tough test ahead (with region play). We want to continue to improve.” …

One of the most significant reasons for Ironwood Ridge’s dramatic turnaround to this point is the play of senior quarterback Dominic Norris, who is in only his second year of organized football. Norris is a legitimate dual-threat as a quarterback. In the victory over Sahuaro, Norris completed 14 of 31 pass attempts for 223 yards with a touchdown and he ran for 75 yards on nine carries with two touchdowns. His primary target Matthew Kroner had seven catches for 122 yards. … Skilled placekickers are hard to find in Southern Arizona despite the region growing as a hotbed for soccer talent. Ironwood Ridge sophomore Isaac Rhonehouse is showing at a young age that he could make a name for himself. He routinely blasted kickoffs into and through the end zone in the win over Sahuaro. He converted a 46-yard field goal. Rhonehouse is also in his second year of organized football. … Former Sabino placekicker Cole Ford, who went on to play at USC, is one of the best to kick here. A standout in recent years is Luis Aguilar of Nogales who went on to play at NAU. … The longest made field goal among Southern Arizona players is 50 yards made by Sunnyside senior Mike Vasquez, who is drawing interest from Arizona, ASU and Utah State. …

Sunnyside senior placekicker Mike Vasquez warms up at halftime of Friday night’s win over Nogales (Dante Escobar/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

Sahuaro’s 13 starters who were forced to sit out Friday’s game against Ironwood Ridge served a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons, according to school officials. Due to student privacy laws, names and details will not be published by this media agency. … Jeff Bollnow’s coaching performance at Tanque Verde is one of the most impressive in the state this season with the Hawks at 4-1 and a top contender for the 2A San Pedro title. The Hawks could have endured a difficult transition with the effervescent Jay Dobyns and his staff gone after leading the program to its first state playoff appearance last season. Dobyns resigned for personal reasons and is now an assistant coach at his alma mater Sahuaro. Bollnow’s youth and aggressiveness were necessary to keep Tanque Verde’s momentum going. Bollnow has managed to drum up enough interest in football at the school that the Hawks have the first junior varsity team this season in their 18-year history. Bollnow, 31, is the son of esteemed local high school football referee Kirby Bollnow, who is nearing two decades of officiating games. …

Add referees: Longtime NFL referee Rich Hall, who played at defensive tackle at Arizona from 1973-76 under Jim Young, is working high school games in Southern Arizona again this season. He has done so the last few years after retiring from officiating NFL games for 18 years. He was also a referee in NFL Europe for eight years. Hall was the crew chief in Friday’s Tempe McClintock-Cienega game. … Friday’s upcoming games are the last before the power ratings are released for the first time this season by the AIA on Oct. 3. Stott made a point to comment that in order for Ironwood Ridge to make the state playoffs it must run the table in the 5A Sonoran. At the midway point of the season, the Nighthawks are the only team in the region with a winning record. Maricopa is 2-3, Mountain View is 1-3, Tucson and Flowing Wells are 1-4 and Nogales is 0-5. It will be difficult to get power points out of the region. It is conceivable that Ironwood Ridge could go 9-1 and qualify for the state playoffs as a low seed that must play on the road in the opening rounds of the 5A playoffs. If Ironwood Ridge trips up in any of the region games, it could keep them from the postseason. After suffering through a 1-9 season last year, a state playoff berth of any kind will be cherished by Stott and Co. …

CDO running back Kayden Luke is at 851 yards on 74 carries with 11 touchdowns in the Dorados’ 5-0 start. He gained 226 yards on 22 rushes with three touchdowns in CDO’s 49-21 win Friday night at Marana. The Dorados were shut out in the first half but outscored Marana 49-7 in the second half behind Luke’s running. “We came out on fire,” Luke said of the performance after halftime. “That felt super, super good — super confidence. We knew we were going to come out and put up some big points on the board.” CDO has a week off before beginning 4A Kino play at Catalina Foothills (2-3) on Oct. 6. All eyes will be on the Dorados the following week, when Mica Mountain (5-0) goes to CDO after playing at Pueblo (3-2) on Oct. 6. “We’re feeding right off of each other,” Luke said of the Dorados’ chemistry. “We’re coaching each other up and it’s getting good. It’s getting really damn good.” …

Luke is deserving of a spot on a Division I roster next year. He is at the same size and physical makeup as ASU’s starting running back Cam Skattebo (5-foot-10 and 220 pounds). Luke also has a future as a college wrestler if he decides to go that route. He went 51-0 last season, culminating with a state title in the 215-pound class. He is also an accomplished student with a 3.52 GPA. “Kayden Luke is the toughest young man in this city. Yup, I said it and I am sure he would love to challenge anyone on the field or the wrestling mat,” CDO coach Dustin Peace said. “Kayden is a throwback player from the ’90’s that coaches love to have on their side. I always joke with the players that I can always ‘take’ them even as old as I am, but he may be the one player I would be lying about. He holds our all-time clean record for the school at 325 pounds. With his level of physicality and competitiveness, teams will be forced to get nose to nose with our team and stop us. Kayden embraces and thrives in those challenging moments. I mean to go the whole wrestling season undefeated takes immense focus to every detail. Coupling the focus he has worked hard on with his physicality, he is going to be fun to watch this season.” …

Marana sophomore Colten Meyer made his first start at quarterback against CDO on Friday (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

At the midway point, Southern Arizona has five schools with a strong chance for a state title — Salpointe (4-0) in 6A, CDO (5-0) and Mica Mountain (5-0) in 4A and Sabino (4-1) and Pusch Ridge (5-0) in 3A. Buena is 5-0 as a 5A team but the Colts face a similar power-points predicament as Ironwood Ridge heading into region play against schools that are near .500 or below. The Colts must run the table against Marana (1-4), Desert View (3-2), Cienega (3-2), Sunnyside (2-3) and Casa Grande (3-2) to get a favorable seed. … Tombstone was upset 23-20 at home by Willcox (2-3) in a 2A San Pedro game Friday night. The Yellow Jackets suffered their first loss (4-1 overall). They appeared to be on a roll with convincing wins entering that game. Bonilla’s team still has time to put things together and become a threat in the 2A postseason. And don’t overlook Tanque Verde in the 2A San Pedro with its 4-1 start. … Significant personnel move for Marana with QB Jason Wood moving to receiver and the Tigers going with sophomore Colten Meyer at quarterback. Meyer is a first cousin of the famed Bourguet family. Trenton Bourguet was a standout quarterback for the Tigers before going on to earn a scholarship at ASU after walking on to the Sun Devils’ program. Meyer had 298 yards passing on 41 attempts with two TD passes against CDO. Marana coach Phillip Steward has commented before about Wood’s versatility and his ability to play receiver if the situation dictates. He put up tremendous numbers heading into the game against CDO with 1,276 passing yards while completing 112 of 164 attempts with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. With a 1-4 start and Meyer needing experience, this appears to be a logical move by Steward at this time. It could change from week to week. …


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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