If there was one thing visiting Center apparently realized during an extended homecoming halftime Friday in Ignacio, it was that their best defense might actually be a slower-paced offense.
Fortunate to have not been trailing as IHS’ Homecoming 2021 Royalty – including injured seniors Tyler Barnes and Alric Hudson – was announced before a crowd resisting a slight rain, the Vikings set about breaking a 7-7 tie by taking as much time as possible, in order to keep the Bobcats’ pass-reliant attack off their own field.
“We just thought maybe we should run the ball a lot more,” said CHS junior Ricardo Maldonado. “So that’s what we worked on all week; that’s what the game plan was.”
“We were going to be passing,” senior Abraham Echauri said, “but I was like, ‘Just trust me on this: Trust our runners, know our line’s going to be there.’ Today, honestly, it was the faith and power of all of us coming together as one.”
Center closed out the first half with senior Fabian Chavez sacking Gabe Tucson for a 5-yard loss and then forcing a long Tucson incompletion to John Riepel with junior Alexis Villagomez providing good coverage.
CHS then started the second half on its 48-yard line after Chavez smothered Shawn Campbell’s onside attempt.
And though Echauri’s 37-yard touchdown carry was called back by penalty, Center regrouped and soldiered on. Reaching IHS’ 20 via a 13-yard pass from Jesus Valadez to Martin Palma, CHS took seven more snaps before goal-line quarterback Maldonado – his shorter stature helps hide him behind offensive linemen – plowed in for a 2-yard score. It was his second close-range TD in the 1A Southern Peaks Conference contest, and came with 6:24 left in the third quarter.
Villagomez’s point-after kick failed, allowing Ignacio to equalize when Tucson hit Campbell for a 58-yard strike only 18 seconds later. Campbell’s potential PAT was fumbled after a poor snap.
During the quarter the ’Cats got one offensive play, which ended with Viking junior Cruz Reyes recovered a Tucson fumble at the Ignacio 39 with 3:21 left. CHS took a 19-13 lead – via a 3-yard Cael Ruggles run, ending an 8-play, 51-yard drive – 14 ticks earlier.
Center commenced the final frame on second down at the IHS 17. The Bobcats clamped down and forced Valadez into consecutive incompletions, and with CHS coaches electing to vie for a first down rather than have Villagomez try an estimated 33-yard field goal (he’d missed from 33 with 8:26 left in the second quarter), Ignacio gained new life when Valadez’s fourth-down pass went incomplete.
Said life, however, would be short-lived.
On first down deep in Bobcat territory, Tucson’s pass was tipped over Campbell and into Echauri’s hands. Taking the interception in stride at the 31, Echauri returned it for six points, bowling over an Ignacio defender at the goal line.
IHS freshman Kendrick Nossaman managed to stuff Ruggles’ attempted two-point conversion carry, but with 11:36 left, the guests had a 25-13 lead and the momentum. On Ignacio’s ensuing series, junior running back Anthony Toledo – in Barnes’ role – took a 16-yard loss to cover a botched snap, and Campbell’s punt was blocked and recovered by Center at IHS’ 6 with 10:26 left.
“They were sending the full house on us; we didn’t have enough bodies to cover everybody,” said IHS junior lineman Jace Carmenoros. “It was go, go, flags, flags. … We were both playing dirty, trying our best to win. Center just got the best of us.”
Wasting 2:02 to run four plays, Center’s lead then grew to three scores via a 3-yard Valadez keeper and Villagomez’s PAT. Junior John Riepel’s 22-yard return of the ensuing kickoff gave IHS one last glimmer of hope, but after starting at their own 37, the Bobcats would relinquish the ball on downs at CHS’ 28.
And with 6:07 to go, the elated Vikings went about executing a plodding nine-rush, 10-play push to leave the ’Cats trailing 32-13.
Unofficially 9-of-21 passing, Tucson threw for 177 yards and two scores. The first touchdown was a 79-yarder to Campbell, caught off the back of Viking Daniel Gutierrez’s helmet, in the second quarter that put IHS up 7-0, after Campbell’s PAT kick. Tucson was also dropped multiple times behind the line of scrimmage and held to minus-22 yards on five carries.
Campbell finished with two grabs for 137 yards, while Riepel had five for 37. Riepel gained 29 yards on five carries, but Toledo was held to 16 on 11.
Valadez unofficially netted 82 yards passing (a penalty reduced a 39-yard TD to Gutierrez to a 17-yard completion) and Center as a whole unofficially had 165 yards rushing yards.
“Don’t get me wrong, Ignacio’s a tough team; congrats to them on that 5-and-0 (start),” Echauri said, with CHS having improved to 2-4 overall, 1-1 SPC. “We … respected it, but we came wanting this as a team, as a family.”
“It’s pretty sweet,” said Maldonado. “We played our hearts out and … came out with the win.”
Up next, Ignacio (5-1, 0-1 SPC) will host Monte Vista at 11 a.m. Saturday, with the Pirates (4-2, 1-0) on a three-game winning streak.
“Everybody’s going to have to adapt in their own way, to playing iron man football like Ignacio’s usually done,” Campbell said. “And I think now that we know how it feels to lose there’s going to be a little more…fire in us, hopefully.”
“I’m going to go out there with all I have,” Carmenoros said. “I’m kind of mad about this loss, so I’m coming out with fire.”