CROWNPOINT - Bogging down offensively in New Mexico, the visiting Bobcats knew something had to change while protecting a shaky 13-6 advantage as the fourth quarter began and Crownpoint suddenly revitalized on their home turf.
"We were getting upset, and me and Mike Archuleta...as captains we had to bring the team back together and remind them that we're here to play football," recalled senior Dustin Sanchez, "and show them what we can do."
Enter the man Cronwpoint knew they had to contain and, for the most part Thursday night, Aug. 30, had.
Forcing an Eagle punt from their 8-yard line two plays into the final quarter, sophomore Bradley Toledo's kick had some height but little distance. Assigned to slow down one of Crownpoint's "gunners" seeking to destroy aptly-named returner Lawrence Toledo, junior Colten Jackson alertly turned his head skyward and began tracking the ball, all the way into his own hands at the 22.
Reversing direction while suddenly back in wide-receiver mode, Jackson scampered through traffic back down to the three with 11:43 left in the interstate contest. Two penalties alternated with two Joe Garcia carries approaching the goal line, but an offsides infraction against CHS re-advanced the ball to the 9.
Head coach "Ponch" Garcia elected to give the pigskin to his co-captain for the crucial morale boost. Sanchez responded, dragging 190-pound Joshua Casamero inside the five-yard line en route to a nine-yard touchdown with 9:39 remaining.
On the extra-point try, holder Lee-Roy Monroe couldn't get the snap settled in time for Archuleta to toe the ball. Thinking on the fly, however, he scrambled to his right and flung a two-point pass instead to, yep, Jackson.
"There in the third quarter we were kind of getting down on ourselves; things weren't clicking like they did that first drive," Sanchez said. "And after that things just started clicking again."
And even more so defensively.
Trailing 21-6, Crownpoint would embark on what would be the battle's longest march, but quarterback Jesse Andis lost a fumble at the Bobcat two-yard line, ending a 13-play, 55-yard grinder with 5:11 still to play. Crownpoint sacked IHS' Ian Weinreich three plays later for a safety with about four minutes left, but CHS' ensuing bonus series ended with Lawrence Toledo intercepting Bradley Toledo at the Crownpoint 49 and 3:14 to go.
Still, the 'Cats managed to gain only eight yards (five via penalty) before freshman Sean Campbell punted, giving Crownpoint perhaps their last chance to start a rally. But on a night where the Eagles struggled to protect the ball, they lost it for a ridiculous seventh time when the ball grazed the foot of one return unit member and bounced straight up into the hands of an oncoming Bobcat.
A penalty against the guests denied them an easy touchdown on the play, but with the ball subsequently placed at CHS' 9 with just 1:13 left, Weinreich massing IHS' offense into victory formation was as sweet a sight as another six points on the scoreboard would have been.mIgnacio departed as 21-8 winners.
"Two-and-0 doesn't really matter to us," said Sanchez (4-19 rushing), addressing IHS' win-loss record. "Our goal's 1-and-0 every game; that was our motto, and that's going to be our motto throughout the season: 1-and-0. Every game's a new game and we're zero-and-zero, going for our first win."
Unofficially, Weinreich finished 11-of-16 passing for 81 yards and led the offense on an 11-play, 62-yard drive beginning the game, which ended with sophomore Dylan Labarthe carrying in a 10-yard TD with 6:32 left in the first quarter. Archuleta's PAT kick was good for the icebreaking 7-0 lead, and IHS' defense then made its first takeaway when defensive lineman Curtis White fell on a bad CHS punt snap to Toledo with 4:40 left.
Crownpoint's second attempt on offense ended with Andis losing a fumble at his own 20 with 3:52 left, and the night's tone was more or less set. With 7:21 remaining in the second quarter, Weinreich scored on a 1-yard keeper to end a 2-play, 9-yard drive set up by a turnover-on-downs.
Archuleta's extra point hit off the upright, leaving the score 13-0, but the Bobcats quickly regained the ball when freshman Damien Escalera recovered CHS' third lost fumble at the Ignacio 44 with 6:06 left before halftime.
Garcia (19-60 rushing) lost a fumble five plays later, but junior Cesar Pedregon's sack-and-strip eight snaps into the Eagles' resulting drive allowed freshman Jeremy Roderick to recover his second fumble in two games. That kept 'Cats ahead by two scores going into the locker room at halftime.
"That's what we're shooting for: Win the turnover battle, win the overall war," said Sanchez. "We practice a gang-tackle, one wraps him up, another hits the ball, and it worked out pretty good this week."
Jackson (2-19 receiving) recovered a Crownpoint fumble on the second-half kickoff, but the 0-2 Eagles managed to score first in the third quarter with quarterback Jaylan Wagner lugging in a 10-yard touchdown with 5:06 left.
The 'Cats, however, stopped CHS' two-point try for yet another proverbial feather in their collective cap.
Up next, Ignacio will return to to New Mexcio on Friday, Sept. 7, to go nose-to-nose with 2A Newcomb at 7 p.m. The potent Skyhawks are also off to a 2-0 start this season after welcoming, then thrashing 4A Shiprock (0-1, 0-0 NMAA Independents) on Sept. 1 by a 60-12 margin.
"They've got a lot of returning players, but we're up to the challenge," Sanchez said. "We're ready to go out there and just play our hearts out, settle it on the field!"