Marcos de Niza took down Tucson Ironwood Ridge, 28-16, in the first round of the Division II playoffs on Friday night, thanks to a strong second half and a stellar performance once again from quarterback Josh Eckley.
Marcos will travel to No. 3 Chaparral in the quarterfinals next Friday night, a rematch of Marcos' 56-45 win in September, Chaparral's lone loss of the season.
Ironwood Ridge (6-5) opened the game strong and forced a three-and-out from the Padres. The Nighthawks took the early lead as quarterback Dylan Key ran the ball for a three yard touchdown, making the score 7-0 at the end of the first.
The Padres (7-4) running game was able to lead a nine-minute drive into the second quarter, tying the game at 7-7 with a rushing touchdown from Eckley. Another rushing touchdown from Key, a missed extra point and a 40-yard field goal from Nathan Farmer put Ironwood Ridge up 16-7 at the half.
Key finished the night 10 of 24 for 157 yards. He also had six carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns.
The Padres continued to struggle out of the gate in the second half. Eckley threw his third interception of the night in the end zone, and it looked like the defending-champion Nighthawks would eliminate Marcos de Niza from the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The rest of the game, however, belonged to Marcos.
Ironwood Ridge tried to run the ball to hold their lead in the second half, but weren’t able to convert. The Marcos de Niza defense was able to force seven straight possessions without a score, and Eckley found his groove late in the third. He connected with Marcus Maldonado for a 44-yard touchdown pass and the Padres' defense forced a three-and-out. On the first play of the next drive Eckley connected with Jake Lagunas for another long touchdown pass, this one for 55 yards.
“The second half he just got on fire,” Padres interim coach Sean Morin said of Eckley. “He was able to see the field a lot more clearly and the running lanes were open for him. When he started running the ball it opened up the pass. The light turned on for Josh.”
N’keal Harry never got into the end zone but was Eckley’s top target on the night, with 13 catches for 127 yards.
The Padres led 21-16 after the third quarter, and Eckley added a 10-yard touchdown run late in the fourth to seal the victory.
Eckley finished the night 29-for-42 with 338 yards passing and two touchdowns along with the three interceptions. Eckley finished the night with 20 carries for 103 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Both sides, though, seemed to agree that the momentum switched when Eckley was able to run the ball late in the third.
“He was buying time with his feet. Once he started to break our containment and run, our defensive backs were put in a tough position,” said Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson. “He’s a great player and he just did what he does so well.”
Marcos de Niza 28, Ironwood Ridge 16
First Downs: MDN, 21, IR 14
Rushing: MDN 28-138, IR 37-124
Passing (Comp-Att-Yards-INT-TD): MDN (29-42-338-3-2), IR (10-24-157-2-0)
Fumbles-lost: MDN 1-0, IR 1-0
Penalties-yards: MDN 8-65, IR 7-69
Marcos de Niza 0 14 7 7 -- 28
Ironwood Ridge 7 9 0 0 -- 16
IR: Key 3 run (Farmer kick)
MDN: Eckley 2 run (Ketterer kick)
IR: Key 4 run (kick missed)
IR: Key 40 FG
MDN: Maldonado 44 pass from Eckley (Ketterer kick)
MDN: Lagunas 55 pass from Eckley (Ketterer kick)
MDN: Eckley 10 run (Ketterer kick)