Targeted multiple times Friday night, Ignacio freshman Sean Campbell had struggled to snare the football.
But in a game seemingly designed for Ignacio to restart the season, when the Bobcats most needed his hands, Campbell happily obliged.
With the ground-oriented Southern Peaks Conference game still tied, 6-6, midway through the fourth quarter, IHS junior Clay Campbell was forced to punt. But his effort traveled 43 yards and died untouched at the Vikings' 17-yard line with 5:06 remaining.
Able to patiently move the ball out to the Bobcats' 43 in only seven plays, CHS quarterback Habran Delacruz then looked long to Abraham Echuari and threw incomplete. Head coach John McGraw called timeout with 1:23 left, but on a shorter fourth-down throw, Campbell intercepted Delacruz's mid-range pass and returned it 44 yards along the guests' sideline.
An unnecessary-roughness penalty against Center after the play then advanced the ball even nearer the goal line, and the 'Cats looked to prevail after being set up at the Viking nine yard line with just 1:10 left.
"He was due, you know?" grinned IHS skipper Alfonso 'Ponch' Garcia. "That interception, I mean. Every pass we threw him was just going through his hands, and I'm happy that he jumped high, got it in the air - like we teach 'em every day - and gave us that opportunity, right close to the end zone."
"We just couldn't capitalize."
Two Dustin Sanchez carries and one by quarterback Ian Weinreich only reached the 8, but the ball was centered perfectly between the hash marks when Ignacio called timeout with 0:05 still showing on IHS Field's scoreboard clock.
After taking a quick breather, senior Mike Archuleta trotted back out along with the field-goal unit to attempt a game-winning 25-yarder. But despite having plenty of height his toe-first try hooked wide left as time expired, sending the game into overtime.
Needing at least a field goal to pressure Center, or a touchdown to automatically clinch a sudden-death victory, IHS won the right to have the first four-play possession beginning from the 10-yard line.
Weinreich looked immediately to the younger Campbell, but the throw to the end zone's right corner went incomplete. Sanchez then gained a yard on second down, but a third-down flick intended for Lawrence Toledo missed the sophomore's outstretched hand as he scurried towards the front left pylon.
Archuleta then lined up for a 26-yard FG, but despite being able to once again clear the line of scrimmage, his kick again drifted wide left.
Sensing that a possible third time would indeed be the charm for the senior, McGraw's offensive unit hustled onto the field with now-or-never urgency. Two Center completions reached the 2-yard line, and on third down senior Cosme Cordova crashed in through the middle for the six-point stunner.
"We were lucky to come out of here with a win," said a relieved McGraw, his crew having improved to 4-2 overall, 1-1 in the SPC. "I'm very proud of these guys; nobody gave them much of a chance. So to be where we are right now, it says a lot about them."
"It wasn't pretty and we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit, but that's credit to Ignacio too," he continued. "They forced some mistakes, brought pressure all night."
After a scoreless first half, which nearly changed when Echauri had a scoring 96-yard interception return (his second pick of Weinreich in as many defensive series) with 6:55 left before intermission negated by penalty, the home team finally struck first.
Senior lineman Lucas Roderick recovered a CHS fumble on the third quarter's first play, and the Bobcats drove 28 yards in seven snaps, and Toledo scored from four yards out with 7:54 left. Archuleta's point-after kick failed, however, and the Vikings didn't waste the opportunity to re-route momentum.
Set up at their 43 after the kickoff, Cordova bolted 18 yards to IHS' 39 on first down, and junior Devin Porres (6-64) sprinted for a 39-yard TD on second. Delacruz's two-point conversion pass fell short, but CHS appeared to also be in business.
IHS didn't appear overly shocked though, and an outstanding Toledo return of the kickoff set the 'Cats up at Center's 45. But five run plays were offset by a second-down holding penalty, and the older Campbell punted from the 34.
Pinned inside their own 5, the Vikings quickly went three-and-out, with Delacruz sending an unreturned punt out to the 39 with 2:42 left in the third. A key sack of Weinreich by junior Eleazar Aguilar pushed Ignacio (2-4, 0-1 SPC) back to the 45, and though Sanchez regained seven yards back down to CHS' 38 the series would end on downs the next play.
Sanchez finished grossing an impressive 185 yards, unofficially (22 were subtracted by penalty, following a 37-yard burst to the Viking 8 with one-tenth of a second left in the second quarter), on 26 carries to lead IHS offensively.
"What an animal!" beamed Garcia. "When he got hurt (a rolled left ankle early in the second quarter) I told him, 'Show me the bullrider!' And he got up, said, 'Hell yeah! It's on!' What a kid."
Sean Campbell finished with one reception for 20 yards as Weinreich finished 3-of-16 for 26. Toledo finished with 16 yards rushing on seven carries, and Clay Campbell gained 10 via one clever fake-punt run around right end.
"They worked really hard through the week, running their butts off day in and day out," Garcia said. "And today it showed; they played their hearts out."
Up next, the Bobcats head up on Friday to Monte Vista, followed by Homecoming on Oct. 19 against SPC nemesis Dolores.
"We'll gain about three more kids, so we'll have a couple more subs - that's going to be cool," said Garcia, looking ahead to facing MVHS. "It's going to be tough, but as long as we go and compete, that's the idea here. Everybody wants to win, but don't understand.it's all about the progress to success."