For the second straight year in its rivalry game against Deer Valley, Ironwood returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Senior running back Darrin Spencer — like Tim Parker in 2008 — cut back and raced untouched 88 yards down the sideline to stake the Eagles to a 7-0 lead while much of the crowd was finding its seats.
"I just made one cut and saw the end zone so I went for it," Spencer said.
The play was the lone common thread between Friday's game at Deer Valley and last year's game at Ironwood. In 2008, the opening fireworks set the stage for a wild offensive display that Deer Valley eventually won 37-31. This time around, Spencer's burst was the lone highlight in a game without an offensive touchdown.
And most importantly for Eagles coach Larry Allen, Ironwood (1-0) won the game 9-0.
"We spent a lot of time and special teams and defensively we played really well," Allen said. "Our kids really played hard. We're getting better on offense. We can move the ball. We've just got to be patient."
Defense and special teams worked in tandem for the Eagles' second score. Deer Valley (0-2) started well, with sophomore quarterback Austin Hillman hitting senior receiver Jacob Doyle on a 26-yard post pattern.
A 21-yard scramble by Hillman and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Ironwood defense set up the Skyhawks at the Ironwood 15. On the next play, Ironwood junior defensive back Gary Chambers intercepted an underthrown ball in the end zone.
It would end up being Deer Valley's best drive of the night.
"We just had a horrible offensive showing this evening, that's blatantly obvious," Deer Valley coach Sven Christianson said.
Ironwood's first drive quickly stalled, but junior punter Corey Christ's kicked bounced past the return unit and was downed at Deer Valley's 4 yard line. Senior defensive end Jordan Mireles sacked Hillman before he could get out of the end zone, giving the Eagles their eventual winning margin.
The Skyhawks wasted two big runs by senior Hayden McClellan in the first half. His first, a 26-yard draw play on third down, moved the team into Ironwood territory, but a pair of Ironwood sacks forced a punt.
On Deer Valley's next drive, McClellan's 62-yard scamper set up the offense at Ironwood's 24. A penalty and a fourth-down sack killed that drive.
Ironwood's offense was even less productive. Christ punted four times in the first half as Deer Valley limited the Eagles to 67 yards of offense.
Spencer was held to 81 yards on 21 carries for the game, and Ironwood managed only 162 yards on the night.
"I think I need to work on hitting the hole a little bit harder and faster," Spencer said. "I should have hit every hole like I did that first kickoff return. We can block better. It's first-game stuff."
Both teams alternated quarterbacks throughout the night. Allen gave senior Bobby Hodge several breaks, owing to nagging injuries and Hodge's exertion as a linebacker. Junior Justin Butler played half the game, and was primarily a running threat.
Deer Valley senior Branden Witkowski started the second half, but was pulled late in the fourth quarter in favor of Hillman. Combined, they completed nine of 20 passes for 84 yards — and three interceptions. Christianson said neither has control of the job entering week three.
Both quarterbacks shared another problem — snapping the ball in time. By Christianson's count, the Skyhawks were tagged with seven delay of game penalties. The communication breakdown stalled four second-half drives.
"The quarterback wasn't getting the signals," Christianson said. "We weren't geting stuff communicated as coaches and we've got to take responsibility for that."
Deer Valley's best scoring opportunity in the second half came on special teams. Christ dropped the ball while punting from his end zone, but was able to pick up the ball and get off a running kick to Ironwood's 39 yard line.
The Eagles' defense took it from there, shutting down McClellan, who gained only four of his game high 103 rushing yards in the second half.
"The defensive line was holding it down for us all game," Spencer said.
Trailing by two scores, the Skyhawks went to the air more, but were picked off twice by Ironwood junior Garrett Robinson.
The second interception capped Deer Valley's disastrous night. Junior Juan Lopez leaped with Robinson for the jump ball with Robinson and suffered a severe leg injury.
Play stopped for 20 minutes while Lopez received treatment. He was taken by ambulance to Banner Thunderbird Medical Center with what appeared to be a dislocated ankle.
Deer Valley will spend the week before its Sept. 11 game at Phoenix South Mountain reverting to summer drills. Friday's fundamental breakdown means it's time to go back to basics.
"Here we are walking into game three, going back to week one," Christianson said.
Ironwood, meanwhile, will accept the state's toughest challenge, visiting defending 5A-I champion Chandler Hamilton (2-0).