This story updated on August 30, 2017 at 10:15 a.m.
Like a well-oiled machine, the Taos Tigers executed their game plan perfectly and sent the Hatch Valley Bears packing in a 55-14 rout at Anaya Stadium Aug. 25.
Before several hundred Tiger fans clad in black Taos Tiger apparel, coach Art Abreu Jr. and his staff showcased an energized team, bent on atoning a lopsided defeat at Hatch in last year’s season opener. Clad in new, all-black uniforms themselves, the Tigers proceeded to run roughshod on the visitors from the south.
From their opening drive to their final victory formation, the Taos Tigers dominated the first home and season tilt, scoring two touchdowns per quarter and shutting down Hatch Valley’s senior playmakers. Six players from Taos were credited with a touchdown, including three from junior Justin Good, who caught two long bombs from Jude Suazo in the first and third quarters. Good also scampered in for a rushing touchdown on an end-around sweep in the fourth.
The total point differential more than surpassed the loss last year – when the Bears stuffed the Tigers 35-6 in an emotional game that was delayed (and ultimately shortened) due to lightning.
“I’m proud of the progress we have made from one year ago to where we’re at now,” said Abreu, who deferred the credit for the night’s win to his coaching staff and his players. “This win was due to hard work. Plain and simple.”
In multiple interviews leading up to the start of the 2017 season, Abreu expressed how anxious he was to get his team back on the field to showcase his players and the efforts put forth during the offseason. The wait was over with the blast of the referee’s whistle and the thud of the first kickoff.
Despite a swirling wind that persisted throughout the entire length of the game, Taos’ Suazo was sharp – completing touchdown passes to a variety of targets, including two to Good and one each to Santiago Cortez and Anthony Maestas.
Rushing touchdowns came from Tiger tailback Jonathan Garcia, who scored the first points of the season on a 6-yard run with 7:10 left in the first quarter. Taos fullback Brian Moraga added another rushing touchdown in the third period, and Good completed his successful delayed reverse for another score in the fourth period. The final exclamation point came from freshman Benno Flores, who crossed the goal line untouched on a 24-yard run for the last score of the game. Taos’ Angel Limas went 7 for 8 in point-after field goal attempts – often kicking straight into the wind.
The play of the Tiger offensive and defensive lines was the key to success. The “O” line allowed lots of time for Suazo to locate his intended receivers and opened huge lanes for the Taos Tiger running backs to move the ball downfield through the middle of the line and on sweeps.
On the defensive side of the ball, Taos forced several fumbles and stifled the Bears’ junior quarterback, Juan Chairez.
Coming into the game, the Bears stood at No. 5 in preseason rankings, while the Tigers were picked in the top 10 in Class 4A at No. 9.
Next, the Tigers travel to Albuquerque to take on the Hope Christian Huskies at Milne Stadium Sept. 2. Stuck in the craw of Abreu’s memory is the manner in which the Tigers lost to the Huskies last year. “We lost that game because we were unable to convert on fourth (down) and one (yard) to keep our drive alive and the ball out of the hands of Hope’s offense,” said Abreu. “The result of that play caused a whole trickle of events that ultimately defined our season.”
Taos was tied with Hope Christian late in the game and lost 21-14 when a kick was returned for a touchdown after a Taos score.
Abreu was alluding to the possibility that Taos was forced to travel for its playoff game in 2016 against Ruidoso – instead of hosting the game at home – due to the unlucky turn of events.
“Right now, the game against Hope Christian is our focus,” said Abreu. “I’m not looking at any other game or team beyond our game Saturday.”
Kickoff is 5 p.m. Milne Stadium is located at 1200 Hazeldine Ave. in Albuquerque.