Fri Nov 8th, 2019
Special to the Drum
One normally watches an NFL Films highlight program to witness two of the most famous – or infamous – plays ever seen in American football.
Or one would have needed to attend the CHSAA Class 1A Southern Peaks Conference clash in little La Jara, Colo., the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, pitting visiting Ignacio against fourth-ranked [CHSAANow.com poll, Oct. 28] Centauri.
With the vaunted Falcons’ first six actual drives producing touchdowns, following sophomore Baron Holman’s 79-yard scoring return of Alvaro Ros Ortiz’s game-opening kickoff, a mercy-rule outcome – the 40-point, running-clock scenario was enacted by senior Taj Cornum’s 5-yard TD carry with 9:27 still left in the second quarter – appeared almost predestined.
Junior kicker/reserve quarterback McKay Russell’s ensuing kickoff found its way into the end zone, and IHS’ offense jogged back out for a series starting at their own 20-yard line with 7:07 remaining before halftime. Runs by juniors Lawrence Toledo and Joe Garcia advanced the ball to the 30 and earned the guests a fresh set of downs. Toledo’s next carry gained just a yard, and sophomore quarterback Gabe Tucson then threw two incompletions under near-instant pressure from Centauri’s overwhelming pass rush, and Ros Ortiz then trotted out along with Ignacio’s punt unit to relinquish possession.
What the Spanish foreign-exchange student-athlete didn’t know was how that would transpire.
Unable to collect the snap cleanly, Ros Ortiz found himself staring straight at an oncoming red jersey (the Bobcats, normally clad in the same color, wore white for the game) bent on destruction. Initially electing to flee to his right, Ros Ortiz then – unknowingly – did his best Garo Yepremian with an awkward shovel-pass attempt straight into surprised CHS sophomore Zach Buhr’s hands.
Unlike Washington Redskin cornerback Mike Bass, who returned the Miami Dolphin’s botched desperation throw – stemming from a field goal blocked back to the Cyprus-born kicker by Haxtun, Colo., H.S. alum Bill Brundige (who would have turned 71 on Nov. 13) – 49 yards for a TD in Super Bowl VII, Buhr managed only a short runback to the IHS 21.
He may as well have taken the gift to the house, though; Cornum blasted through for a score on Centauri’s next play, and Russell’s point-after kick – already his fifth in eight tries (one missed wide, two were blocked), increased the Conejos County locals’ jaw-dropping advantage to 53-0 entering intermission.
Able to resist the allure of an unusually warm, sunny day, those fans sticking around to witness the fast-expiring second half were treated to some highlights actually benefiting the visitors.
Set up at their 42 after a short Russell kickoff, Ignacio junior Dylan Labarthe – his first and last name coldly butchered by the PA announcer – gained 13 yards on first down into CHS territory. Falcon freshman Adrian Prieto then barged through to sack Tucson for ten yards back to the Bobcat 45, but Tucson answered with a 55-yard pitch-and-catch to senior Colten Jackson.
With 9:18 left in the third quarter, Ros Ortiz’s PAT split the uprights and IHS, at long last, was on the scoreboard. Centauri’s ensuing drive, begun at their own 10, quickly ended three-and-out and freshman Manuel Lucero’s punt situated the ’Cats at CHS’ 37 with 4:28 left.
A 22-yard Toledo burst advanced Ignacio to the 13, but Garcia and Labarthe were each dropped for 5-yard losses and despite a 3-yard Tucson-to-Garcia connection, Ros Ortiz’s 37-yard field goal fell short on the fourth quarter’s first play.
Awarded an automatic touchback and possession at their own 20 with 11:34 remaining, Centauri actually appeared somewhat stunned when Russell – taking over for senior incumbent Eric Maez – hit Estevan Vega for two yards on first down, only to see the freshman lose the ball and Jackson scoop it in stride for a 22-yard scoring return with 10:31 left.
Ros Ortiz made no mistake on the PAT, and the ’Cats were unexpectedly in double digits.
Seconds later, IHS sophomore Tyler Barnes crawled out of the pileup holding the ball – fumbled by CHS on the kickoff – and the Bobcats were back in business at the Falcon 26 with 8:30 left. With Tucson icing his non-throwing right elbow and sidelined near senior Ian Weinreich – victim of a left-ankle injury early in the contest – freshman Teagan Roukema was summoned, but was dropped for a drive-killing, 18-yard loss on fourth-and-6 from the 22. He’d have a chance at redemption, however.
Two Kolten Johnson carries netted just a yard, and the Centauri freshman was stripped of the ball on the second. Conjuring images of the NFL’s humorous ‘Holy Roller’ incident – Oakland Raider tight end Dave Casper’s Sept. 10, 1978, forward bumbling of quarterback Ken Stabler’s fumble, producing a winning TD at San Diego – neither squad managed to get control of the bouncing ball as it inexplicably retreated ever closer to CHS’ goal line.
At long last, Garcia emerged from the mob scene with the pigskin and the rest of the Roukema-led offense hurried out to commence work at the Falcon 7 – or 34 yards (the ‘Roller’ essentially covered 24) from where Johnson lost his grip.
Toledo was dropped for a 3-yard loss on first down, but then swung out into the left flat on second to snag a 10-yard TD pass with only 1:20 left. Ros Ortiz’s PAT then ended the game with the final margin reading 53-21.
Unofficially, Tucson finished 4-of-8 passing for 59 yards while Roukema was 2-of-3 for 13, with neither intercepted. Toledo unofficially netted 22 yards on seven carries, but Labarthe finished with 3 on four and Garcia minus-5 on five as Ignacio (3-6, 2-2 SPC) was held collectively to minus-21 on 19. Jackson finished with two catches for 58 yards, while Toledo caught two for 11 and Garcia two for 3.
Cornum (unoff. 9-80 rushing) and sophomore Mason Claunch (4-39) combined for five rushing scores and Buhr (2-8) added another, while Maez finished 2-of-3 passing for 59 yards and a 40-yard TD to Holman – making the score 39-0 with 12 ticks still left in the first frame.
Russell was 2-of-2 for 13 yards in helping Centauri (8-1, 4-0) prepare for another State Playoffs showing.