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Miners bury Bobcats in opener, 45-6

First quarter hole inescapable for IHS
Ignacio senior Cruz Martinez loses himself inside the cool of a frozen towel during a timeout Saturday at IHS Field. The Bobcats began their 2023 season hosting Hotchkiss-based North Fork in nonconference play, with an early-afternoon air temperature in the 90s that was likely higher on-field. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Recording two interceptions and one red-zone fumble recovery on the defensive side of the football, plus gaining 74 yards on four kickoff returns, Devante Montoya turned in the sort of performance Saturday which Ignacio head coach Alfonso ‘Ponch’ Garcia hopes will be repeated as often as possible in 2023.

“I’ll tell you what, (Devante’s) our ace. He’s one of our captains, so he should be one of our leaders,” Garcia had said after a nonconference game last fall. “I’m not going to lie, he’s probably going to be our main target (offensively) because he’s our most experienced kid.”

Unfortunately, visiting North Fork not only limited Montoya’s targets as a receiver but held the senior to just one catch for eight yards while pressuring – and often sacking – sophomore quarterback Zane Pontine.

Meanwhile, NFHS sophomore Braeden Flores put up a stat line he might remember for quite some time. Flores had six point-after-touchdown attempts with as many makes, one made field goal in as many tries and, despite seeing most his action as the Miners’ kicker (senior incumbent Maddie Brezonick was unavailable), three ‘victory formation’ kneel-downs as the guests’ third option at quarterback – polishing off a season-opening 45-6 road win at IHS Field.

Hotchkiss-based NFHS got on the scoreboard on its first drive – an all-run, six-play, 44-yard push consuming just 2:17 and capped by senior fullback Lane Allen’s 5-yard touchdown carry. NFHS never lost the upper hand.

Ignacio sophomore Lincoln deKay looks for rushing yardage around North Fork's Stellar Cook during the second half of the nonconference teams' season-opener Saturday at IHS Field. The Bobcats lost 45-6 to the Hotchkiss-based Miners. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Junior Payson Pene intercepted Pontine two plays into the Bobcats’ ensuing possession, putting North Fork (1-0, 0-0 1A Western Slope) in business at IHS’ 14-yard line with 7:53 left in the first. And though an apparent TD by senior Hayden Moreno was wiped out by penalty, the Miners added to their lead when Flores booted a 31-yard FG with 6:00 remaining.

Moreno would break up a long Pontine pass on second-and-11, and Ignacio (0-1, 0-0 1A South Central) soon sent lineman Stephen Habel back to punt on fourth-and-7 with the ball snapped from the Bobcat 18. The move-in freshman’s kick grossed 27 yards, but netted minus-18 after Moreno took it to the house and increased NFHS’ lead to 16-0 prior to Flores’ second PAT.

An intentional-grounding infraction off-tracked IHS’ next series, leading to another Habel punt. But after the Miners set up shop at Ignacio’s 49 with 1:55 to go, Montoya picked off a first-down throw and returned it 23 yards to North Fork’s 39. The opening 12 minutes, however, would expire with Pontine sacked on third down and IHS trailing 17-0.

Habel punted, and though the unreturned kick netted just 16 yards, the Bobcats managed to force a turnover-on-downs at NFHS’ 48 after seven plays. The stop came at a cost, however; senior offensive/defensive lineman Kyle Rima was lost for the rest of the nonconference contest to a possible knee injury while helping tackle Allen with 10:09 left in the first half.

A sack of Pontine by Miner sophomore Joe Hollembeak sufficiently disrupted Ignacio’s subsequent drive. After another Habel punt, North Fork needed just two plays and 37 seconds to go 72 yards and inflate the score to 24-0 – via a 47-yard Moreno run with 5:19 left, plus a Flores PAT.

Montoya returned the resulting kickoff a promising 29 yards out to the IHS 33, but the ’Cats would again go three-and-out. And again, the enemy made them pay. Following Pene’s punt return to the North Fork 44, the Miners surged 56 yards in 1:17 and four plays – the last being a 10-yard Pene TD run with 1:21 left until halftime. Flores’ right leg was again accurate and NFHS would go back to their locker room up 31-0.

Pene returned IHS senior Wade Dunbar’s second-half kickoff 14 yards to the Miner 47, and North Fork’s drive began with 11:54 on the clock. With 11:45 showing, the outsiders’ advantage had grown to 38-0 after Moreno took a handoff from senior Hunter Moreno and blasted right through the middle for a morale-crushing 53-yard score.

Set up at their own 48 with 3:31 remaining following Montoya’s second pick and 21-yard return, the ’Cats finally broke through and avoided a shutout. Helped by a 10-yard penalty tacked onto a 4-yard run by sophomore Lincoln deKay, Ignacio got on the board with 1:32 left when senior Rylan Maez dove and stretched the football just over the goal line, completing a 27-yard TD reception from Pontine along the visitors’ sideline.

Junior Charlie Pargin’s PAT try, however, was smothered by NFHS sophomore Stellar Cook, leaving the score standing 38-6 after the 4-play, 52-yard possession. But the success was short-lived; after covering Dunbar’s squib kick at their own 37, the Miners covered 63 yards in four swift snaps and hit paydirt for the last time via Hayden Moreno’s 35-yard TD pass to Hunter Moreno, who caught the ball between Montoya and senior Marcus Maez, then slipped into the end zone with 0:26.1 left as the converging ’Cats collided.

In defeat, Pontine threw for 53 yards unofficially on 4-of-13 accuracy and was intercepted twice. DeKay gained 55 hard yards on 22 carries, including 23 on his last two before Miner sophomore Jaeger Nay picked off a Pontine pass. Rylan Maez totaled three catches for 45 yards.

Ignacio will next travel to Moab, Utah, for a Sept. 1 showdown with Grand County (0-2).

Despite being sacked by North Fork's Cody Pagone, Ignacio sophomore quarterback Zane Pontine alertly keeps the football out of reach during season-opening nonconference play Saturday at IHS Field. Pontine threw a touchdown during the third quarter to prevent a shutout. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)