The math is simple.
With little execution, outmanned in the trenches, turning the ball over seven times, and stopped three times on fourth down attempts, the odds of Ironwood pulling this out were clearly remote. Plus, Willow Canyon made sure that once the Eagles were down, they were kept down.
Capitalizing on a physical defense and creating those seven turnovers, the Wildcats humbled visiting Ironwood 44-13 in a Division II, Section I game at Willow Canyon.
The Cats managed 274 yards on the ground and featured a pair of junior running backs J. D. Espree and Antony Thompson to carry the load. Espree finished with 84 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns, while Thompson picked up 96 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns.
While Willow Canyon (3-3) carried the ball collectively 54 times, it was their defense which stopped an explosive Eagles’ offense.
“Coming in, we knew they were an option team,” said Wildcats coach Mike Hudnutt. “If could stop their run, then we wanted to force them to beat us with whatever else they had.”
Willow Canyon clearly responded to that challenge and held Ironwood to a net of 36 yards on the ground in the first half. When the Eagles scored on their first two possession of the second half to cut the Wildcats lead to 14-13, the home team's offense then scored on its next two possession, and put this one out of reach.
Down by two touchdowns early in the second half, Ironwood (4-2) reached the end zone when senior Matt Paparella scored on a 64 yard and that quickly followed with junior tailback Michael Alexander’s five-yard scoring run less than 2 minutes into the third quarter.
In their next possession, the Wildcats scored quickly. On the first play following the ensuing kickoff, Espree hit pay dirt on a 58-yard run and that proceeded Thompson’s 1-yard scoring run on the Cats' next drive.
With just under six-and-a-half minutes left in the third period, Willow Canyon had a 29-13 lead, and from that point, the outcome was not in doubt.
“They took us out to the woodshed,” said Ironwood coach Ian Curtis. “This game was won up front and they handled us. We made a comeback there at the start of the second half, but mistakes again killed us. We’re a good team, but not good enough to overcome all the turnovers.”
The pair of Paparella and Alexander accounted for 139 of Ironwood’s total of 142 yards on the ground. As well, Espree and Thompson gained the majority of Willow Canyon's 274 rushing yards.