QUEEN CREEK-- Looking for their first win in nearly three years, the Queen Creek American Leadership Academy Ironwood Warriors played a tight first half with Fountain Hills but found themselves on the wrong end of three second half touchdowns as they fell, 35-12.
Although the final score itself might not look like anything to be proud of to most people, head coach Travis Epperson has preached the importance of chemistry and trusting the process as his ALA Ironwood program looks to turn things around; there were several flashes of reasons to be optimistic as lightning struck around Ironwood’s campus on Friday night, starting with the Warriors’ defense.
“I liked that they didn’t let adverse situations scare them,” Epperson said. “They had multiple times where we stopped them inside the 10. You find moments where you’re down, your back’s against the wall and they stood up. And that’s what you want to build on. It was first and goal and we held them twice.”
Although the Falcons eventually capitalized on a younger, less experienced Warriors team by putting up 21 points in the second half, a spry Warriors’ defense made several impressive stops before the half. On drive number one, the Falcons were pinned inside the Warriors’ red zone on a fourth down.
The Warriors’ defense gave up the first touchdown of the game with 59 seconds left in the first quarter, but it took two third-down conversions from the Falcons to find the end zone.
“That mentality we preach, you can’t recreate those situations in practice,” Epperson said. “They saw that situation in-game, backs against the wall and they stood up. And that’s what I love. You see the things we preach, the culture, we won’t back down from these situations and it showed up.”
An energetic first half concluded with a long run by freshman running back Ayden Williams; the 5-6, 130-pounder broke several tackles and received an impressive array of blocks from his teammates enroute to the Warriors’ first and almost-only touchdown of the game.
That touchdown had them down by just one point after one quarter, but that sudden burst of offense from Williams was not enough to match the offensive attack from a more seasoned Falcons took advantage of the Warriors’ mistakes as the game went on.
Aside from the Williams run, the Warriors had opportunities to score and made it past midfield on several occasions but struggled to cross the orange pylons; the final kibosh was an interception by quarterback Connor Mault in the fourth quarter which the Falcons turned into a touchdown.
The Warriors were able to punch in one more touchdown in the closing minutes of the game; it was too little, too late, but Epperson saw many of the team’s mistakes as fixable, including missed tackles and blocks, as the youthful Warriors trudge on through a 10-game season.
For the Warriors, Epperson has said that this season is about development, improvement and taking it one day at a time; they will have seven days to prepare for their next matchup scheduled for Fri. Sept. 3 on the road against Phoenix Valley Lutheran.