TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Senior running back Johnny Pena carried the Lancers on his back, running the ball 37 times for 187 yards and scoring three touchdowns in #5 Salpointe Catholic's 30-14 win over Division II top ranked and previously unbeaten Ironwood Ridge.
The Nighthawks struck first thanks to a blocked punt by linebacker Scott Simmons that set IRHS up with a short field.
Anthony Braunreiter pushed the rock home from four yards out for an early 7-0 lead.
But the Lancers struck right back. Cameron Denson started at quarterback for Salpointe Catholic on the first series, but Andy Cota came in for most of the rest of the game and ran the Lancers offense with precision.
Cota was on point throwing and running the football. A 27-yard dash helped set up the Lancers first touchdown. Pena scored the first of his three TDs from two yards away to make it a 7-6 ballgame.
Early in the second quarter the junior quarterback found Pena on a 32-yard pass that gave the Lancers a first and goal at the Nighthawks four-yard line.
Pena scored on the next play to make it 13-7 Salpointe Catholic.
On the next Ironwood Ridge possession, senior quarterback Tyler Williams seemed to find his groove. The first play of the drive saw Williams weaving his way thru the Lancer defense for a 34-yard scamper. But the drive later stalled.
Pena scored his third touchdown of the half with under four minutes to play to stretch Salpointe Catholic's lead to 20-7.
Then the Lancer defense came up with what might have been the stop that cemented the game. IRHS drove into the red zone in the final minute of the 2nd quarter, but Salpointe thwarted three plays from the ten yard line with Jay Williams and Jake Noonan coming up with key pass break ups in the end zone.
The Nighthawks came up empty when Nathan Farmer's 27-yard field goal barely got off the ground and hooked wide left. The Lancers led 20-7 at the half.
At that point Salpointe Catholic for the most part ground the game out on the backs of Pena, Cota and Denson, who battled cramps all night and came back after being KOd on a vicious second quarter hit by Ironwood Ridge defensive back John Klass.
Denson, subbing in on certain plays at quarterback, took a snap up the middle for 28 yards on a play that really seem to take the wind out of Ironwood Ridge's sails.
Junior tight end Robert Wilson than out fought Nighthawk defensive backs Klass and Julian Figueroa for a jump ball that resulted in a 28-yard touchdown and a 27-7 Salpointe lead.
It was academic at that point. Williams added a garbage score for Ironwood Ridge who end the regular season at 9-1. The Lancers finish at 10-1 by way of their intra-state matchup with Encino (CA) Crespi to start the season.
Both teams will now await the final say of the AIA to find out where they stand for the Division II playoffs which start next Friday night.
Like last season the Lancers won the season finale between the two teams only to lose to the Nighthawks in the playoffs. It's not out of the realm of possibility that these two teams will match-up again this season in short order.