It would have been nearly impossible for Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson to imagine a worse start to Friday's Division II quarterfinal game.
Visiting Glendale Apollo returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a score, then recovered a pooch kick at the I-Ridge 16-yard line.
But Hawks kicker Rodrigo Hernandez missed from 27 yards to help the Nighthawks dodge a major bullet, and I-Ridge's Tyler Williams and Anthony Braunreiter took things from there.
The No. 3-seed Nighthawks scored 28 straight points in the second and third quarters and Braunreiter and Williams combined to run for 338 yards and five scores as I-Ridge advanced to the D-II semifinals with a 42-30 win over No. 6 Apollo.
"We did a good job of responding," said Braunreiter, who lost a fumble on the Nighthawks' second possession.
"We just started to grind and put some drives together and got rid of the turnovers. The line did a great job blocking, and we just found the holes."
The Nighthawks will play next Friday against Tempe Marcos de Niza, which they beat 35-27 in the fifth game of the season. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Gilbert Campo Verde.
I-Ridge coach Matt Johnson said he warned his team before the game that Apollo would come out of the gates fast, so they were prepared for the early barrage.
"We settled down after the start," Johnson said. "They're a good team. They're going to get their points, it's just a matter of whether we let that happen early or late."
Apollo led 14-0 after the first quarter, but Braunreiter scored from 4 yards on the first play of the second quarter to get I-Ridge on the board and cut the lead to 14-8 after the Nighthawks successfully faked the point-after attempt.
The two teams exchanged scores on the next four possessions to finish the first half, the final score a 10-yard run by Williams with just nine seconds left before the break to cut the Apollo lead to 24-22.
That's when I-Ridge put its foot on the pedal.
The Nighthawks scored on their first three second-half possessions, with Williams rushing for two touchdowns and passing for another one.
I-Ridge racked up 525 yards of offense and 21 first downs while limiting Apollo to 315 yards and just 85 on the ground.
"We knew this wasn't a game that would be won in the first quarter," Apollo coach Zack Threadgill said. "We did a good job getting settled into the game. They're just a great team with great coaching."
Despite facing a rematch from a team they beat on the road earlier this season and have a sense of familiarity with, Braunreiter said the Nighthawks are just going to prepare like they have for any other game.
"We've always got to prepare well," he said. "No matter who we play, just got to clean up our mistakes."
On StarNet: See more photos from Friday's games at: azstarnet.com/gallery