From the first play to the last, every moment counted in the 14-7 Taos 4A state championship victory over Bloomfield at Anaya Field in Taos Dec. 1.
The Tigers won the coin toss – a frightening way to start a game for any Taos opponent.
The Bobcats’ worst fears were realized on the kickoff. Tiger Anthony Maestas caught the ball and handed it off to Justin Good, who passed to Jonathan Garcia, the Tigers’ top rusher. He did not disappoint. With a dazzling run into the end zone, Garcia capped the three-man, 83-yard return with the first 6 on the board. The extra point by Angel Limas was good, and it was 7-0 Tigers within seconds.
And so began a defensive battle that lasted most of the game. Taos and Bloomfield both did an excellent job of protecting the field behind their lines, and each team was prepared for the other. The combination of cold, wind and powerhouse defense kept the ball on the ground for most of the game.
The first Bobcat possession began at their 20-yard line and was riddled with penalties against the Bobcats. Flags on three consecutive plays had Bloomfield facing second-and-25. An incomplete pass followed by Estevan Valerio’s big tackle on the third-down forced the Bobcats to punt on fourth-and-30.
The Tigers took possession at the Bloomfield 48. Garcia tried the center, but was thrown down for a loss of 3 yards. On second-down, Good snuck around to the left and all the way down the field to the end zone, but the touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty on the Tigers, who set up again at second-and-23 on their own 46-yard line.
The Bobcat defense applied ample pressure and the Tigers punted on fourth-and-long. After a flag on Bloomfield, the Tigers placed the punt inside the Bobcat 10-yard line.
All this with 9:47 left to go in the first quarter.
Brian Moraga had an outstanding game. The Bloomfield snap saw Moraga bearing down on Bobcat quarterback Rogelio Gonzales, getting the sack and setting Bloomfield back 3 yards. A pitch got the Bobcats about 5, but the next play was another tackle for a loss, forcing the Bobcat punt from the end zone that went out of bounds around their own 25.
From there, the Bobcat defense held the Tigers outside of the end zone. The 26-yard field goal attempt by Limas was denied by a post—the eastern post, as one might expect given the winds from the Northeast.
While both teams did manage to complete passes, the day was bitter cold. The morning winds of up to 17 miles-per-hour died down by afternoon, but the wind chill made the freezing temperature feel more like 20 degrees (F).
After the field goal attempt, it was Bloomfield’s ball deep in their own territory. Even with a player still hustling onto the field at the snap, the Tigers took a yard from the Bobcats on the first play. Bloomfield quarterback Gonzales carried on the next two plays to get third-and-2, and the big and fast Bobcat Vincent Marquez ran it all the way to the Bloomfield 48.
That was as far as the Bobcats could go that drive. A tackle for a loss by Moraga made it second-and-16.
The subsequent pass attempt was out-of-bounds around the 50, and the pitch that followed would have been a fumble but for the officials ruling it a forward pass. The Bobcats punted on fourth-and-18 with under a minute left in the first quarter.
Good fell on the ball around the 6-yard line.
Protected by the line, Good, Garcia and Moraga made progress on the ground and completed passes to Maestas and then Moraga got the Tigers into the middle third. Two short runs and an incomplete pass brought up fourth down and they punted with 7:50 left in the half.
A dynamite run by the Bobcat’s Marquez was ended by Noah Armijo, who pushed him out of bounds, but a personal foul on the sideline saw the run called back to the Bobcat 26.
Bloomfield had the ball for barely over a minute. The Taos defense kept the Bobcats to 3 up, 3 down and had the ball back on their own 33 with 6:14 left in the second quarter.
It was Good, then Garcia, then Moraga making steady progress, but the Tigers then lost what they’d gained to a penalty. The momentum was on Bloomfield’s side. A sack and then a tackle for a loss had Taos on their own 22 facing third down and almost thirty. A big run by Garcia wasn’t big enough for the first down, and Bloomfield took possession around the Tiger 40 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the half.
An incomplete pass and a tackle for a loss by Tiger Adam Vigil didn’t deter the Bobcats.
On third-and-13, Bloomfield quarterback Rogelio Gonzales had time to connect to wide receiver Ethan Beevers. He nabbed the touchdown pass before the Tigers could bring him down and the extra point tied it up at 7 points all.
Taos and Bloomfield each had one more short, uneventful possession before heading to the locker room for halftime.
The third quarter was again a defensive showcase.
With Maestas on the sideline demanding noise from the crowd, Valerio and Isaiah Martinez brought down the kickoff receiver at the 20. Taos shut down the Bobcat drive in three downs and barely over a minute.
The Tigers weren’t able to get far on their next drive.
Bloomfield had the ball back with 8:56 left in the third, but they were punting again 1 . minutes later after facing tremendous pressure, including a sack by Aidan Leblanc for a 17-yard loss and a fumble (recovered by Bloomfield).
Moraga carried for 3, then Garcia bored through the defensive line for a Taos first down, but after a sack on second down, the Tigers punted on fourth.
Constantly pursued by Taos defense, Bloomfield went 3 up, 3 down again and was punting from their own backfield on fourth-and-11. The punt was nearly blocked by Leblanc.
A penalty on the Bobcats called back the kick, forcing Bloomfield to punt again 10 yards farther back, snapping the ball from their own 8-yard line. Under pressure from Leblanc and the rest of the Taos line once again, the punter fumbled.
Armijo was ready. He recovered the ball in the end zone, putting 6 more on the board and, with the extra point, establishing the 14-7 lead that Taos maintained for the final quarter.
Bloomfield was making steady progress on their final possession of the quarter when the Tigers’ Clayton Demas flung the quarterback, Gonzales, to the ground, turning the Bobcats second-and-5 into third-and-15. Then Demas ended the drive by bringing Marquez down far short of the first down.
The fourth quarter sustained the excitement.
Taos, then Bloomfield, had short drives. It was Dominic Lopez with a tackle for a loss that turned the Bobcat second-and-3 into third-and-4 and Lopez again with the sack that brought up the punt on fourth-and-8.
Taos got the ball on their own 20 with 7:37 left in the game. After two runs by Good, Taos was faced with third-and-11. Then Good connected to Armijo for a gain of 20 and a first down, keeping the ball under Taos control until only 3:35 remained in the game, when they punted.
What happened next is a tale for the ages.
A big Bloomfield play would have been a touchdown if not for Justin Good pushing Kenyon Mosley out-of-bounds at the Tiger 2-yard line.
The Taos defense was nothing short of brilliant – so good their stand is its own story. See story “Four downs and a legend” on page 16. The game was all but won after a tackle by Valerio, then one by Moraga, then tight coverage by Maestas that prevented a touchdown reception, and finally the drive-ending sack by Martinez.
All that was left for Taos was to snap and kneel three times.
As the Tigers put their fingertips to the field for the final plays of their best season ever, knowing that in only seconds the championship was theirs, they remained aware of the Bobcats, who stood helpless on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Between two downs, Martinez, who was setup across from the Bobcats’ Noah Gurule, stepped over the line dividing the two teams to offer him consolation – an arm around his shoulder and a word.
It wasn’t long before the clock expired, and the Tigers were officially declared the 2018 4A state champions.
Players poured onto the field, embracing before they lined up to shake hands.
The sportsmanship and compassion shown by Martinez in his hour of triumph was clearly supported by the coaching staff of the Taos Tigers. Rather than celebrate with his team immediately, assistant coach Abreu Sr. stood and shook the hand of every player on the Bloomfield team.
Though the announcers did their best to organize the delivery of the trophy and banner, the Tigers’ side of the field was joyus chaos.
Deliriously happy players and coaches circulated about the field with tear-filled eyes while fans and family members encircled them with hugs and congratulations.
When the players knelt to be addressed by head coach Art Abreu Jr. for the last time this season—and for the seniors the final time in their high school career—he approached them saying, “I don’t know how many tears I have left!”
“What you just did on that goal line, people will talk about for years to come,” he told them. “I’m proud to say that I’m your coach, your friend, and your brother.”
When asked by Razor Sharp Productions how he felt about the graduation of his 13 seniors, Abreu Jr. responded, “I lose 13 parts of my heart.”
Speaking to and for his team, coach Abreu Jr. said, “We will always be connected.”
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