Recipient of a shot, um, below the belt while fighting unsuccessfully to recover a Centauri fumble on what ended up being the final play on Friday, Keaton Pickering couldn’t hide while walking slowly back to the Bayfield bench to wait out the remaining 38 seconds of a 41-16 loss which, for nearly three quarters, wasn’t necessarily the home team’s fate.
And which Pickering did pretty much everything within his means to prevent.
His name called by the Wolverine Country Stadium p.a. announcer seemingly whenever a tackle was made defensively, the senior totaled a reported 20 stops, recovered a red-zone fumble – resulting from a snap over CHS quarterback Sean Jarvies’ head – to halt a potential Centauri scoring drive midway through the second quarter, and later scored Bayfield’s last touchdown.
“I’m extremely proud of our linemen … got to give props to them, mostly,” said Pickering, who capped a 7-play, 62-yard drive legging out a 17-yard TD reception after senior quarterback Cody Ross flipped a short pass under pressure into the left flat. “And Lincoln Williams had a beautiful block, and when I came outside I saw the hole … just kept on going through it. I’ve been waiting for it all season, and finally got it tonight!”
Ross then lobbed a two-point conversion throw to an unguarded Williams, a junior, in the left corner of WCS’ north end zone, bringing the turnover-plagued Wolverines back to 34-16 with 8:13 remaining in the nonconference clash.
Bayfield continued battling, forcing CHS to punt after the Falcons’ ensuing series effectively ended after a 3-yard Jarvies TD carry was negated by a holding penalty, a personal-foul plus an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty – all on the same play.
Backed all the way up to midfield, Centauri (2-2 overall, 0-0 1A South Central) punted two plays later from BHS’ 49-yard line. The unreturned kick was downed at the 10 with 4:50 left. Ross completed three straight passes, and senior Donovan ‘Dante’ Candelaria carried for two yards as Bayfield advanced to the 32, but CHS then put the game truly out of reach with senior Deven Brady (14-115 rushing) returning the Falcons’ sixth interception of the night 42 yards for a score.
Senior Josh Polkowske – who’d returned a pick 19 yards for a TD with 5:22 left in the second quarter – then booted his fourth PAT kick in five tries, giving the guests a four-score advantage the Wolverines couldn’t chip into with their final possession, which began with senior center Dominick Albo alertly covering a fumble for a 4-yard loss, and ended three snaps later with a Ross incompletion.
While the 25-point defeat may have looked bad on the scoreboard – especially considering BHS’ next opponent, reigning New Mexico Activities Association Class 4A State Champion Bloomfield – but things really weren’t all bad.
For instance, the Wolverines (0-4 overall, 0-0 2A Intermountain) held the Falcons to seven first quarter points – resulting from a drive starting at the Bayfield 31 after senior Kiler Ullery intercepted Ross. In fact, Centauri began eight series at their own 40 or better, with four birthed in BHS territory. But out of those eight possessions came just 14 points; the Wolverines forced four punts and had Pickering’s fumble recovery, before regulation expired and thwarted an opportunity for CHS’ reserves – fortunate to not have lost the fumble Pickering nearly smothered.
Caelan Ramos, however, did recover a CHS fumble, killing off a Falcon drive which began at CHS’ 16 and reached as far as BHS’ 3 before Jarvies saw his center’s snap shoot overhead on the series’ 10th play. Thus set up at their own 17 with 5:25 left in the third quarter, and still trailing by the approachable 21-8 halftime margin, the Wolverines broke out to their 44 in six plays before Falcon senior Zach Gallardo intercepted Ross (who had been picked by senior Chaz Holman on the last play of the first half).
Offensively, Bayfield first got on the board via Ross’ 28-yard TD throw to Williams – capping a 9-play, 70-yard push using 2:53 of clock – on a short slant in from the left side of the formation. Unable to hit a 25-yard field goal with 0:17 left in the first frame, Candelaria’s first PAT attempt in the game also fell short.
A roughing-the-kicker infraction, however, gave BHS a second chance and head coach Glenn Wallace immediately shouted to go for two. Ross responded, zipping a pass to Candelaria and bringing Bayfield within two touchdowns with 2:24 left in the second quarter.
Ross finished with 198 yards on 16-of-31 passing, with Pickering pulling in seven receptions for 90 yards and Williams five for 82. Candelaria caught one throw for 10 yards, and junior Hunter Mars snagged three for 16. On the ground, Candelaria managed a team-best 46 yards on 13 carries.
“That off week kind of killed us a little, as seen on the scoreboard,” Pickering said. “There was a little bit of rust and I do believe it showed, but I think we’ve just got to work a little harder in practice, come back stronger and ready for our next game.”
“We did some good things, you know, offensively and defensively,” Wallace said. “It’s just little inconsistencies that kind of … rear their ugly head still, and we’ve got to get rid of that.”
Because Bloomfield likely won’t fail to capitalize on mistakes. Having most recently destroyed 4A Valencia 50-0, the Bobcats will welcome the Wolverines for a 6 p.m. showdown on Friday standing a 5-0 overall. The ’Cats have already piled up 242 points while allowing only 27 – numbers strikingly similar to those achieved during their 5-0 start last fall (245-59) en route to a 13-7 home win over Silver in the grand finale.
Bayfield succumbed 28-12 to Bloomfield last season inside WCS.
“Last year I thought we had a great game plan; we gave them just about everything they could handle,” Wallace said. “And I think it’s the same idea this year; we’ll just try to limit turnovers and keep them from hitting big plays on offense.”
“Their quarterback is having a good season – they throw the ball quite a bit – and they’re pretty balanced overall,” he continued, knowing his own pass defense surrendered TDs of 21 (Jarvies to junior Parker Buhr, 10:14 left in the second quarter) and 62 (Jarvies to Brady, 1:08 left in the third) yards. “So we need to keep them in front of us and make them earn it.”