Best in the West 2020: Ironwood vs Sunrise Mtn. 5A Championship Preview

5A Championship: #6 Ironwood (Glendale) vs. #1 Sunrise Mountain (Peoria)

A first-time champion will be crowned on Friday night as two Peoria Unified Schools clash, both vying to raise a golden ball for the first time in program history. Ironwood and Sunrise Mountain are region rivals and this season’s matchup on October 30 was a gridlock until Ironwood’s key touchdown in the third quarter, leading to a 20-11 IHS victory, arguably their most impressive of the season.

In the first matchup of 2020 between the Eagles and Mustangs, there was only one score outside of the first quarter. In this game, SMHS swapped from senior quarterback, Travis Ward, to junior, Hunter Kronengold, midgame, only combining for 68 passing yards while Ironwood’s Will Haskell threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Sunrise Mountain senior, Julian Esber, was the only player on offense to make significant damage, rushing for a team-high of 73 yards, while Tommy Arnold scored the Mustang’s lone touchdown.

SMHS senior, Owen Thomas, played a large role in containing Ironwood to just 20 points, contributing a sack, four tackles for loss, and nine total tackles. In 2020, Thomas has led the Mustangs in tackles while also racking up 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks through ten games. Sunrise Mountain will once again look towards their defensive stars such as Thomas as well as seniors, Brandon Bogard and Steven Hoffman. Both Hoffman and Micah Scott have each picked off opposing quarterbacks on three different occasions through 2020, adding to a difficult secondary to throw through.

Another name who could make his presence known on offense is senior, Ezekiel Marshall. The senior had just three receptions in the first meeting against Ironwood but turned that into 33 yards of offense. Marshall has totaled nearly 600 receiving yards on the year and can be a threat if the opposing defense is focusing too much on senior, Tommy Arnold, who leads SMHS with over 1,000 total yards in 2020 as the heartbeat of the offense.

Led by San Diego State commit, Will Haskell, Ironwood has earned eight wins in a shortened 2020 season, the most wins for the Eagles in a single season since 2005 where they lost to North Canyon in the semifinals. Their victory against Sunrise Mountain earlier this year marked their first victory against their sister school since 2008 but has never met the Mustangs in the playoffs.

In 2020, offensive weapons have emerged throughout the season, allowing Haskell and the offense to shine, especially with senior, Elijah Sanders, who leads the team in receiving yards and is second in rush yards, only behind Haskell. Other offensive weapons have improved over the year such as Sebastian Fiery-Hardimon and Elias Hernandez as well.

Adding production on both offense and defense has been Bubba Mannino-Faison, a physical body on the field, not only ranking himself as a top receiver on the team but a member of the defense who some quarterbacks may hesitate throwing towards. Sanders has also contributed on defense as well, picking up an INT in 2020 and making a handful of tackles per game.

A major key for Ironwood will be containing Sunrise Mountain in the fourth quarter. In the final 15 minutes of their semifinal game against Notre Dame Prep, the Saints outscored Ironwood 22-7. Though it wasn’t nearly enough to close the gap, the Eagles have faced fourth-quarter scoring struggles throughout the year.

On paper, Sunrise Mountain has significantly more impressive games against common opponents, Verrado and Desert Edge, but Ironwood was able to completely stall the SMHS offense in their earlier meeting. SMHS is 8-4 all-time against Ironwood.

Without a doubt, both teams enter their biggest game in program history. Ironwood has never raised the championship trophy and enter their fourth state title game appearance while Sunrise Mountain hopes to claim the title in their first state championship appearance. The 5A State Championship Game will take place on Friday at 7 p.m. at North Canyon High School in Phoenix.

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