For a normally high-scoring team, Aztec’s head coach Matthew Steinfeldt said Friday’s win over Bayfield High School was a different kind of shootout.
“We’ve been in a lot of shootouts in years past,” Steinfeldt said. “This year, we want more of a defensive mentality. The way the kids are playing, it allows us to keep games relatively low scoring and still be able to win it. The offense did enough, and we were great on special teams.”
Aztec punter Dayten Boone’s booming punt midway through the fourth quarter pinned Bayfield High School on its own 1-yard line with five minutes remaining with the score deadlocked at 14. Two plays later, Bayfield’s Cale Schaefer was tackled in the end zone for a safety. Aztec’s narrow two-point lead held, and the Tigers scored the final 10 points of the game for a comeback 16-14 win.
While the special teams played a key role in the second half, so did Aztec’s defense.
“Hats off to Aztec for just pushing,” said BHS head coach Gary Heide. “They won that game because they were more physical than us in the second half. I think (Aztec running back Alex Parra) was the difference for them. He was fast, physical and really tough on short-yardage situations.”
The Wolverines (1-2) got on the board first after sophomore quarterback Isaac Ross found Schaefer for a 30-yard TD pass with 7:08 remaining in the first quarter. Earlier in the drive, the Wolverines nearly coughed up the football after Schaefer fumbled a snap, recovered it and ran for a first down to extend the drive.
Midway through the second quarter, Bayfield’s defense answered the bell when Trenton Harrison recorded his third interception of the season and took it down to the 1-yard line. One play later, Ross handed the ball off to Schaefer, who pounded it home to make it a two-score game. After an extra point, Bayfield led 14-0 with 3:59 left in the first half.
However, Aztec (4-1) found an answer. On the second-to-last play of the half, Aztec freshman quarterback Marcquis Henry found Javier Valenzuela in the corner of the end zone on a 30-yard scoring pass to cut the Tigers’ deficit 14-6 with six seconds remaining.
“That was a big play for them, but I don’t think we went into the locker room discouraged,” Heide said. “We knew we had to come out in the second half and just continue to do what worked in the first half.”
The Wolverines had chances, including two drives that stalled in Aztec territory.
With 1:40 left in the third quarter, Bayfield’s James Mottin intercepted Henry after Henry had led the Tigers to the Bayfield 25-yard line. After the interception, Bayfield’s offense wasn’t able to capitalize.
“In the first half, the pound and ground game was really working for us,” Schaefer said. “(Aztec) picked it up later and we lost our pound and ground game. They brought more guys in the box, brought their linebackers up and were bringing the load in the second half.”
In the fourth, Aztec tied the game with another long drive that Parra capped off with a 1-yard plunge to make it 14-12 with 7:14 remaining. On the 2-point conversion, Parra lined up in the wildcat formation and scored to tie the game at 14.
Bayfield had a chance to take the lead, but Ross was intercepted on the following drive after he looked for Crosby Edwards on a go route in double coverage but was intercepted. After another stout defensive effort from Bayfield, the Tigers had to punt. Boone’s perfectly-placed punt set up the eventual game-winning safety.
The Wolverines had one last chance to tie it with under two minutes remaining as Ross drove Bayfield to the BHS 45-yard line. However, on the next play, he was intercepted, and Parra would go on to seal it with a long run on third down.
“Bayfield moved the ball well at times, but our defense played lights out all night,” Steinfeldt said. “Really, our defense only gave up seven points because Bayfield’s other touchdown was set up by the interception we had.”
BHS will have a week to prepare before it hosts Durango (2-2), ranked No. 10 in Class 4A, at 7 p.m. Friday back home at Wolverine Country Stadium.
Sports editor John Livingston contributed to this report.