High school football
Brahler steps up to help Ironwood Ridge rally past Tucson High
Ironwood Ridge football coach Matt Johnson spent most of this week preaching to his team about how tough it would be to come out with a win at Tucson High on Friday night.
He wasn’t kidding one bit.
Junior running back Nick Brahler rushed 30 times for 144 yards and two go-ahead touchdowns to help the Nighthawks rally for a hard-fought 20-17 road win, spoiling the Badgers’ senior night. Now I-Ridge (7-1) can turn its attention to a huge matchup against Cienega next week, with a chance to knock off the unbeaten Bobcats and shake up the 5A postseason picture.
“We were expecting a dogfight, we knew it would be like this,” Johnson said. “We were lucky to get a couple bounces to go our way and we’ll see how many guys can get healthy for next week.”
The Nighthawks, ranked fifth in 5A, may be shorthanded when it hosts No. 2 Cienega next Friday, in a game that could potentially determine the 5A Southern regional champion. Among those injured against Tucson High were seniors Soma Helu and Garett Billings, who lead the team in rushing and receiving, respectively.
If Johnson needs someone to step up next week, he won’t have to look far.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 175-pound Brahler was brilliant filling in after Helu went down in the second quarter. He rushed for an 11-yard score to give I-Ridge a 17-14 lead at halftime and later produced the eventual game-winner on a 5-yard touchdown run with 6:26 left in the fourth quarter.
“I knew it was going to be tough but my line is great,” Brahler said about having to step up. “I knew I was in the right place and they had my back at all times. I just trusted them and tried to do my best to get us the win.”
Senior linebacker Frank Crane set up Brahler’s game winner when he recovered a fumble after knocking the ball away from Tucson quarterback Jorge Flores on a sack. That marked just one of four fourth-quarter turnovers by the Badgers, who led 17-14 heading into the final period.
“I was just doing my job, doing what I was told,” Crane said. “It was really big for our team, it was just a big-time play. I’m just happy I was in the right spot at the right time.”
Tucson High (4-4) went ahead 17-14 less than 3 minutes into the third quarter when senior Tyree Pierson returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown. It looked like the Badgers were about to extend their lead later in the quarter but I-Ridge’s Daniel Peabody came up with a fourth down stop, deep in his own territory.
The Nighthawks were forced to punt a few plays later but things were starting to unravel for Tucson High, as its next three possessions resulted in lost fumbles. Then, a botched punt return gave I-Ridge the ball with 2:05 remaining and just about eliminated any chance of the Badgers making a comeback.
“I feel like it’s a good stepping stone, we can definitely build off this,” Pierson said. “Mental errors were the only thing that really killed us. Other than that, we played a pretty solid game.”
I-Ridge will have its hands full next week when it takes on a Cienega team that has won 11 straight games dating back to last season. Even with that challenge on deck, the Nighthawks weren’t getting ahead of themselves.
“We definitely prepared for Tucson this week,” said Peabody, who combined for 163 yards rushing and receiving. “We know they’re a good team, we didn’t overlook them at all. Coach Johnson preached that they’re a good team and we took him seriously.”
Tucson High can bounce back next week when it plays at Rincon/University, which lost to Sunnyside 25-13 on Friday night. As long as the Badgers win there, they’ll move on to play Yuma Cibola the following week for the 6A Southern regional championship with a trip to the state playoffs on the line.
“We’ve got two more games, hopefully a region championship and state playoffs,” Argraves said. “We’ve just got to focus on that and realize how good we really can be. We’ve had an up-and-down season but I think tonight, these kids finally realized what it takes.”