It took the better part of a full half of football for anything to happen. Then, the Ignacio Bobcats came to life.
With two minutes to go before halftime in a scoreless game Thursday night at Center, Ignacio High School mounted a 48-yard scoring drive to jump start the game. The Bobcats would take a 6-0 lead into halftime and continued to roll in the second half en route to a 27-18 victory.
IHS, which did not play a Week 1 game against Class 1A No. 4 Meeker because of too many ineligible players, was elated to get the season-opening victory in a 1A Southern Peaks League game.
“To watch the guys work the last few weeks, have ineligible kids last week but to come out tonight, it was priceless to see the kids’ faces,” IHS head coach Alfonso “Ponch” Garcia said. “We have been trying to teach the kids how to be successful, not just on the field but in life in general. Today, they responded well, and it was excitement to celebrate a victory today.”
IHS (1-0, 1-0 Southern Peaks League) got the initial score from running back Joe Garcia. It was set up by a 17-yard pass from Gabe Tucson to Dylan Labarthe before a 9-yard run from Garcia. He then ran into the end zone on an 18-yard romp set up by a big block from wide receiver Shawn Campbell. Campbell would have his extra point attempt blocked, but IHS would carry a 6-0 lead into halftime after scoring with 31.8 seconds to go in the half.
“That woke the kids up a bit,” coach Garcia said. “That’s when everything got exciting on our sideline.”
Joe Garcia ended the first half with 70 rushing yards on nine carries. He would finish the game with 127 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns.
“He started a little slow, and we had a talk about what he needed to do,” coach Garcia said of his senior running back. “He picked up the pace and, wow, he became a train running the ball very hard and finished strong. I was happy and proud of him.”
The Bobcats would get the ball first to start the third quarter and marched all the way inside the Center 10-yard line. But Tucson would be intercepted by Center freshman Jesus Valdez at the 4-yard line with 6:19 to go in the quarter.
Only a few plays later, Ignacio sophomore Jace Carmenoros would sack Center quarterback Habran DeLaCruz for a 5-yard loss. On the next play, DeLaCruz was intercepted by Labarthe, who returned it to the Center 10-yard line. Three plays later, Joe Garcia scored on a 3-yard TD run. Tucson would complete a 2-point conversion pass to Lawrence Toledo to give IHS a 14-0 lead with 2:25 to play in the third quarter.
One play into the next Center drive, sophomore running back Cael Ruggles would be stripped by the Ignacio defense. The ball popped right to Ignacio’s John Riepel on the Center 32-yard line.
“To get the ball right back, you should have seen our sideline,” coach Garcia said. “It was so awesome to see those emotions. It’s hard to describe.”
Joe Garcia didn’t need any time to score his third TD of the game, as he started left and cut back to the right and found nothing but daylight on a 32-yard TD run with 1:57 to go in the quarter. A Campbell extra point had IHS ahead 21-0.
Center (0-2, 0-1 SPL) finally got on the board with 9:44 to play on a 10-yard TD run by Ruggles to cap a four-play, 37-yard drive. Ignacio’s Riepel would block the extra point, though, and it was 21-6.
The Ignacio offense went nowhere on its next drive, and Center would then go 60 yards in nine plays and score on a 3-yard TD pass from DeLaCruz to Carlos Almeida with 4:20 to play. The 2-point run was no good, and IHS led 21-12.
Ignacio would recover an onside kick at midfield and then drove 50 yards in seven plays with a 27-yard TD pass from Tucson to Labarthe on a deep post route, with Tucson threading a perfect pass through the Center defense.
A botched extra point attempt was no good, but IHS was comfortably ahead 27-12 with 3:23 to play.
The Bobcats would recover a squib kick that Center was unable to get control of, but the Bobcats didn’t hold the ball long. Riepel, in as the backup quarterback, lost control of the ball and fumbled. Center’s Victor Almeida recovered and returned it 67 yards for a TD with 1:09 to play. But Ignacio again stuffed a 2-point conversion run attempt.
Center recovered an onside kick but turned the ball over on downs after going backward six yards in four plays, and that’s how the game would end.
It was a tough passing and kicking game for both teams in heavy winds, but Ignacio figured it out and went to a short passing game. Tucson finished 13-for-30 for 158 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
Labarthe finished with 55 yards and the score on three receptions. Toledo led the Bobcats in receiving with 60 yards on five catches. Riepel added 20 yards on three receptions, and Campbell had 23 yards on two catches.
“We couldn’t get momentum with the passing game, so we went to the short passes that eventually opened up the long passes the last quarter and a half,” coach Garcia said. “It worked well.”
Center’s best offense came from Abraham Echauri, who had nine carries for 109 yards with three carries of more than 20 yards in the opening quarter and a half of play. But he would be injured and not return to the game. Ruggles finished with 81 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries for the Vikings.
IHS will play its first home game at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 against rival Dolores (0-1, 0-0 SPL). The Bears will play Friday night at Centauri in its Week 2 matchup after a 52-0 non-league loss to Hotchkiss in the Week 1 game.
“It’s so nice to have good leadership from our seniors going into this next game,” coach Garcia said. “They have confidence within themselves and now know they can be successful.”
Joel Priest contributed to this report.