At this time last season, Dale Stott’s Ironwood Ridge program was coming off a 1-9 mark in his first year as the head coach.
The Nighthawks returned only one starter. He had an idea that with a young group returning, things could only get better.
They got so better that Ironwood Ridge went 8-2 overall with a 5A Sonoran title with a 4-1 record.
“The kids have bought into the system,” said Stott, who was a member of Amphi’s 1975 state championship team coached by Jerry Loper. “They have realized that hard work pays off. You get back what you put in. They’ve put a lot of time in the weight room so that they believe in themselves, that they’ve earned the right to win.”
The epitome of Ironwood Ridge’s turnaround is senior quarterback Dominic Norris.
He went from no experience at the position last year to being a 2,000-yard passer this season.
He set the Southern Arizona record with 502 yards passing in a win over Tucson earlier this season.
Ironwood Ridge made the 5A bracket as the No. 16 seed. The Nighthawks will play at No. 1 seed Higley (8-2) on Thursday at 7 p.m. (games are not on Friday next week because of Veterans Day).
The other Southern Arizona schools to make the 5A bracket are No. 11 Marana (5-5) and No. 15 Buena (7-3).
Marana, which won its last three games, will play at No. 6 ALA-Gilbert North in the first round. A very interesting aspect of that game are the top receivers for both teams — Marana’s Dezmen Roebuck and Arizona-bound Brandon Phelps of ALA-Gilbert North.
Phelps, a senior, holds the state record with 254 career receptions. Roebuck, a junior, is close behind with 229.
Buena will travel to No. 2 Desert Edge (8-2) on Thursday. The Colts are in the state playoffs for the first time since 2019. They will try to achieve their first playoff victory since 1983.
No. 12 Casa Grande (7-3) will open the playoffs at No. 5 Apollo (9-1).