Thanks for joining me tonight to talk some high school football. Let's get started.
The Lancers had a great season, going 12-2, so it's hard to say they have an "issue." They ran into a very good Peoria Centennial team and didn't do enough to pull off the win. They broke through to the semifinals for the first time in more than a decade this season and that's a good start for next season. With Denson, Cota, Casteel, Powell and several others back next year, the Lancers will be dangerous again.
If the Nighthawks are going to get it done tomorrow night, the number one thing they have to do is protect the football. Ironwood Ridge has done a very good job holding onto the football this postseason and keeping opposing defenses on the field for sustained drives. They can't afford to hand the ball over to the Coyotes. On the flip side, the Nighthawks defense needs to force a couple of turnovers and change the momentum. Centennial made several mistakes in the regular season game and Ironwood Ridge needs to force them into mistakes again this time.
Nighthawks QB Tyler Williams is going to have to be solid again tomorrow night if I-Ridge wants to win, no question. He's the man that paces the Nighthawks offense and I believe other players look to him for leadership and confidence. I don't think he has to have a career night or be supernatural. I think he just needs to play mistake-free football and continue to run the option offense with the poise he has all season. Don't underestimate this about Williams: He's a three-year varsity player, who has reached at least the semifinals every season. He knows the level you have to play at to win a game like tomorrow's. Expect him to show up.
Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Victor! Chatting with Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson today, he talked about the importance of stopping Centennial RB Jalen Ortiz. He called him the state player of the year and said you have to throw a wrinkle at him defensively to contain him. If the Nighthawks can hold him in check and make the Coyotes go to their second and third options on offense, it will make things much easier for them. Ortiz, by the way, is headed to UCLA next season and Johnson isn't the only one who thinks he should be the state POY.
I'm not sure that's the case. I'm guessing you're referring to Centennial and Salpointe. I have a hard time saying Ironwood Ridge isn't one of the two best teams in Division II. Are they one of the two most talented? No, I don't think they are. But, it's not all about talent and I-Ridge has all the intangibles great teams have. At this point, even with the regular season loss at Salpointe, I think I-Ridge is one of the two best teams in Division II.
They are a very solid unit, who does a lot of good things. A couple of things stand out to me about them. First, they handle speed very well. Marcos de Niza had all kinds of team speed and kept trying to get into the open field. But the Nighthawks kept them in front of them and held them from the breakaway gains. The second thing that stands out is how many guys I-Ridge has that swarm to the ball. Guys like Jake Matthews, Austin Goddard, Julian Figueroa, Cris Thorson and Robert Coleman always seem to be around the ball. The entire unit flies around and makes plays.
A few teams I'm excited to watch next season: Mountain View, Cienega, Sierra Vista Buena, Tucson and of course Salpointe. Expect RBs Dominique Drake from Buena and and Richie Estrada from Mountain View to have big senior seasons. They will be the centerpieces of their teams offense and repeat their solid junior seasons. It's also going to be fun to watch Salpointe's Cameron Denson and Sabino's Matt Bushman and Andrew Mike. All three are Pac-12 caliber players.
That's interesting. The Nighthawks are going to have to try. That's clearly Centennial's strength and I-Ridge has to find a way to stop it. I think the read option can be tricky for big defensive linemen if they can get into the second level of the defense. On the other side, Centennial's offensive line is huge. I-Ridge needs to use its speed off the edge to get around the Coyotes size and put pressure on QB Tre'Von Grant and RB Jalen Ortiz.
Salpointe and I-Ridge. And, that picture is really freaking me out!
I think Salpointe has a claim, but at the end of the day, I think the two most well-rounded teams are playing for the title. The Lancers may have the most talent in the state. But, come playoff time, there are other things that matter. Centennial and I-Ridge both are loaded with experienced players who have made deep run in the playoffs. That matters. Salpointe gained big-time experience this year, but I think the two best teams are playing tomorrow, even with Salpointe's 30-14 win over I-Ridge.
The first thing is stop Tyler Williams. He's as dynamic as any player in the state and is the man you have to gameplan for. If he's not able to run and has to sit back in the pocket and throw, that will help Centennial's defense. It's also important to stop Anthony Braunreiter from getting to the second level of the defense and keeping him to short gains. If you get can get the Nighthawks consistently passing, it will put them on the ropes.
Berk's Beat will be roadtripping! I see we have a loyal reader here. We'll be there to provide top-notch coverage for Sunday's Star. The Beat is excited!
Having already played them in the regular season, I can't imagine they learned a ton new. If anything, they got a reminder to hold down Jalen Ortiz best they can.
He's going to have to have a big one. He's been great in the postseason so far and has really taken this team to a new level. If he's able to get yards like has the first three rounds the Nighthawks have a serious chance in tis game. Look for him to get the ball early to establish a presence and then often if he's effective.
I'm sure I'll leave a few out, but. QBs: Tyler Williams, Adriell Alvarado, Andy Cota and Marcel Renteria are a few. RB's: Johnny Pena, Anthony Braunreiter, Dominique Drake, Brian McCarty, Kevionte Alexander and Chris Snodgrass. WR's: Cameron Denson, Matt Bushman, Luke Holley and Isaiah Clayton.
Interesting. This is a different type of one-dimensional offense than the one CDO had in 2010 when it lost to Scottsdale Saguaro. That team clearly couldn't pass and if Ka'Deem Carey was off, it was going to be tough. This I-Ridge team can hit swing passes all game with Jake Matthews and I think having two such different runners like Williams and Braunreiter makes them not so one-dimensional. But, it couldn't hurt to hit a few passes tomorrow.
Buena will have the best D1 team next season and should have no problems making the playoffs. I'd also expect Tucson to make it next season.
I'm not ready to answer that quite yet. But, if I had five finalists at this point, they'd likely be (in no particular order): Mountain View's Clarence McRae, Nogales' Vince Villanucci, I-Ridge's Matt Johnson, Walden Grove's Chris Sargent and Buena's Ryan Scherling.
The top is Centennial RB Jalen Ortiz. He's a UCLA commit and should be a big-time player at the next level. The Coyotes also have a defensive end, Marcus Farria, who is committed to Washington. He's big (6-5, 225) and athletic. He has a knack for making plays and should do some good things for the Huskies at the next level. I also believe Tyler Williams is a college player and should still garner a few more offers before signing day.
Not ready to pick that yet, either. Tyler Williams, Cameron Denson, Dominique Drake and several others will get consideration.
Very good with a chance to be better than this season. Denson and Cota will be fun to watch.
I'm not there sure is a program like that down here right now. I expect Foothills to be improved next season, because they will get a big-time coach and start building a program. Also, no way their schedule could be as hard as this season. Also, continue to see Mountain View and Marana continue to build.
I write about this a little bit in Saturday's paper, but one thing Johnson does that certainly works for this team is keep them loose. He tells the team a joke before they take the field and really tries to get them to enjoy football and have some fun. The other thing he does a great job of is getting his team to focus on the right things. Last week, there was not one player who was looking down at the Marcos de Niza side of the field and saying "we're overmatched." They don't give a lot of thought about the opponent and instead, worry about what they are doing. It's a great approach.
I like this question. If I had to pick one program, I think I'd go with Cienega. If the Bobcats still went 8-3 this season after losing 18 starters off a state runner-up team, they will always be a threat. Ironwood Ridge, Salpointe and Sabino will also continue to win games, I'd bet.
Alright, I've been saving this question all night. Let's finish on it...
The smart pick is Centennial. The Coyotes have clearly hit their stride since the four-point loss to Ironwood Ridge and there's no way you can expect them to make as many mistakes tomorrow as they did the first time. They have more talent and a coach who has won three state titles. All that said, I think the Ridge has something special going. I think the finish it off tomorrow with a win and win the first state championship in school history. I'm going Ironwood Ridge 30, Centennial 28. Have a great night everybody.