Bobcat gridders kicking 2019 off against new foe

Ignacio junior Joe Garcia (16) pulls along multiple tacklers during a close-quarter drill at a recent preseason practice at IHS Field. Back from a serious leg injury last fall, Garcia will be counted upon for toughness in the Bobcats’ backfield.
Ignacio head coach ‘Ponch’ Garcia and longtime assistant Bill Gwinn, state what’s expected of the Bobcats following a recent preseason practice at IHS Field. The ’Cats will kick off the 2019 season at home Saturday afternoon, August 31, against the Bloomfield, N.M., JV.
Ignacio sophomore Gabe Tucson, right, calls signals under center during a recent preseason practice at IHS Field. Tucson will be in the mix to earn experience at quarterback this season, with incumbent Ian Weinreich suiting up for his senior season.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Football opener now Aug. 31, Bloomfield visiting

Already dealing with a water leak and resulting consequences to his floor at home, the last thing ‘Ponch’ Garcia needed the weekend of August 24-25 – in addition to preparing for the first day of school on the 26th – was a schedule snafu involving his game-ready Ignacio Bobcats.

Unfortunately, one presented itself and concerned IHS’ slated 2019 season-opener.

“Got the notice, saying things have changed. We’re not playing Crownpoint on Friday night, because … I don’t know; they got a new AD and he dropped us,” Garcia said in regards to scheduled Aug. 30 opponent Crownpoint, N.M., an enemy the ’Cats have faced, and beaten, each of the past three years.

“But even their coach did not know about his plans! So that was kind of bizarre,” he continued. “But anyhow, we picked up a game. And we’ll be playing at 4 o’clock Saturday (Aug. 31), against Bloomfield’s JV.”

That is to say, the Bobcats will kick off the new campaign against … other Bobcats.

And the challenge could be more difficult; CHS – now listed as traveling to Shiprock, N.M., on the 30th instead of IHS Field – began play this past Friday, Aug. 23, visiting 5A Santa Fe (N.M.) Capital and taking a 55-0 slam from the Jaguars.

Not exactly the way the 3A Eagles would have liked to begin improving on a 2-8 overall finish in 2018.

Ignacio, meanwhile, will look to finally begin building upon last year’s misleading 3-6 mark, a record casual prep-football fans would have figured was par for the course.

What most may have missed was that IHS put, more or less, a winning team on the field.

And with a little luck, and a lot more bodies, Bobcat Football would have officially had its first winning season under the ever-optimistic Garcia and first since Lupe Huerta’s 2013ers went 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the 1A Southern Peaks Conference.

Had former SPC member Walsenburg John Mall not pulled off a fourth-quarter escape for the ages, and had revived SoPeaks rival Center not swiped an overtime win, Garcia’s group would have ended up 5-4, 2-2 last fall rather than 3-6, 1-3.

However, with only Dustin Sanchez, Lucas Roderick and Mike Archuleta lost to graduation back in May, virtually all of last year’s ’Cats will return in 2019 – ready to make a winning season a reality.

“I just love the commitment. Twenty-six have come in, and they keep coming,” said Garcia, 10-26 overall and 4-14 in conference since taking over for Huerta in 2015. “And as coaches we try to get even more excitement because it’s football time! They’ve been coming every day, going through all the … torture we’re giving them, you know, so that says something just for the kids to come day in and day out.”

“That’s what we’re preaching right now: Stay with what we’re doing. You’ve committed to something, so stay positive,” he added.

And on paper, it would be hard for the team not to be upbeat about their chances to help the program climb above the .500 mark, as most skill-position regulars are back in the fold. Quarterback Ian Weinreich returns for his senior season and second as IHS’ No. 1 option under center, while juniors Lawrence Toledo and Dylan Labarthe again will offer rush/receive production out of the backfield. Ditto for junior Joe Garcia, eager to make up for lost time after a nasty leg injury cost him the last six games of ’18.

Back from an off-field shoulder injury which also caused him to miss much of last season, senior receiver Colten Jackson returns as the Bobcats’ primary deep-ball threat, with sophomore Shawn Campbell ready to follow up on a promising debut year.

Senior Clay Campbell and sophomore Jeremy Roderick will again be counted upon to control action in the trenches, particularly with holes left by the elder Roderick, Archuleta and Sanchez (whose ball-carrying ability will also be missed).

“Without linemen you don’t have a football squad; it doesn’t matter who it is. Everybody thinks the quarterback and running backs are your studs … Well, to me your studs are your front five; they’re the ones that dictate the game,” said Ponch Garcia, proud to show off at least ten such players at one preseason practice.

“And when you have ten kids out there, it’s beautiful! Last year we only had four or five; we had … to grab a wide receiver and say, ‘Today you’re a lineman!’”

“Quarterback … obviously Ian is the veteran. He knows the offense very well, and again … it’s just the beginning. We’ve got Gabe [Tucson], and we also have Teagan Roukema, so the competition is really good. They’re going to be the future, obviously; one of those kids is going to take over for him,” the boss continued. “And I’ll be honest, it’s really nice to have a backup – two backups! – because before … we only had one, and it was really tough.”

“Colten has been here since I’ve been here, so he understands what I’m expecting of him. And same thing with L.T.; they showed up all summer to lift weights, and that shows big, big leadership on their part.”

Sophomore Tyler Barnes and newcomer John Riepel should provide extra backfield legs, along with promising addition Mekhi Miranda – one of a few unknowns already catching the skipper’s eye.

“It’s really good to see the freshmen coming in and older kids adopting them,” said Garcia. “The nucleus is awesome.”

After hosting BHS, Ignacio will then welcome 2A Newcomb, N.M., to town on Sept. 6, then travel north to Leadville a week later to battle 1A Foothills member Lake County – which IHS blanked 41-0 in 2018. A Sept. 20 trip to JMHS then awaits Ignacio, with an Oct. 5 visit from (and special 2 p.m. start time against) 1A Tri-Peaks reps Colorado Springs Christian wrapping up non-conference play before the ’Cats invade Center on Oct. 11.

“We’re probably one of the smallest teams in our conference – not because of numbers, but size-wise, you know?” said Garcia. “I think … most of our games we can compete in, and that’s the idea – try to put your kids where they can compete, feel good about themselves.”

“Our schedule told us last year we can – we got blown up in a couple games, and had to forfeit our last game because of numbers, like when we played Crownpoint,” he continued. “We competed with Newcomb, at the beginning, and we competed with John Mall, Lake County … We’re at that level right now, and I think we’ll be able to compete with those teams.”

“But again … we’ve got to fix the wrinkles. And the commitment these kids are giving … so far it’s been good.”

SEEKING OPPOSITION

Garcia also mentioned that IHS is in the process of seeking to fill a vacancy in the schedule between the aforementioned road date at John Mall and home game versus CSCS.

“I’ve been going through Utah,” said Garcia. “I went to Whitehorse, Monument Valley – I was determined to find us a game, and Whitehorse only had six games. So when we called them…I guess we called a day too late. I was e-mailing principals, ADs, I didn’t care; I just want these kids to play. And we don’t care who it is; right now, it’s just like, ‘Let’s play!’”

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