The district opener between the Taos Tigers and the Santa Fe Indian School Braves was an interesting tilt for about 12 seconds.
And though the game between two 4-0 teams was played on the artificial turf of Thomas Atencio Field on the campus of SFIS – on a Thursday night – the Tigers nonetheless mowed down the Braves’ defense and bagged an easy 62-7 win.
The game started out with a shocking run back by Santa Fe Indian School returner Jasper Hokah, who picked up the skidded opening kick by Angel Limas near his own 20-yard line and found a seam along the Taos sideline – and eventually the end zone. The touchdown and the subsequent point-after kick was the first time the Braves scored points against Taos – going back to their very first meeting in 2016, when the Tigers blanked SFIS 54-0 in a rain-soaked homecoming contest at Anaya Stadium. In that shutout, the game was over shortly after the start of the second half due to the “mercy rule” imposed after a team builds a 50-point advantage over its opponent. The outcome was much the same in this year’s match, with the game ending at the six-minute mark in the third quarter.
The letdown caused coach Art Abreu Jr. to briefly display his “disappointment face” on the Tiger sideline, which his players sought to remove – quickly.
Abreu’s fire was quelled to a degree one minute later when Taos’ offense answered with a 66-yard touchdown run by tailback Jonathan Garcia. Breaking through the line of scrimmage on just the second offensive play of the game, Garcia outran the entire Braves defense to tie the score at the 10:50 mark in the first period. This was followed up by another long run by Garcia three minutes later to take the 14-7 lead with 7:11 left in the first. This one for 80 yards helped the Tigers retake the lead and set the stage for an aggressive ground assault that would produce 62 unanswered points and an easy road win for Abreu and his squad.
Also getting into the fray was Santiago “Saint” Cortez, who scored a touchdown off a 16-yard pass from Jude Suazo with 4:30 left in the first stanza to extend the lead to 14. A third rushing touchdown by Garcia with 2:22 in the first period would give the junior 217 total yards on the evening.
A pair of touchdowns each by Benno Flores and Armando Valerio in the second quarter gave Taos a commanding 56-7 lead going into the half. Part of the “mercy” rule – where the game clock remains running when a team is leading by 35 points or more – was imposed at the 10-minute mark in the second period. The 28 points scored in both the first and second quarters against the Braves, matched the Tigers’ best single period point production, which occurred in the first quarter against the Santa Fe Demons Sept. 15.
So far this season, Taos has racked up 248 points and has allowed just 56 points in games against Hatch Valley, Hope Christian, New Mexico Military Institute, Santa Fe High and Santa Fe Indian School. The total point sum and the point differential (points attained versus points allowed) of 192 is the best among Class 4A teams. The next best team in 4A for total points is the Las Vegas Dons, who have garnered 200 thus far. In point differential, the next best team is the Moriarty Pintos, who have scored 189 points and have given up just 55 for a 134-point difference.
The Braves joined District 2-4A in 2016 after a four-year stint as an independent – or freelance – team. This meant they were unattached to any particular league or district and were not eligible to participate in postseason play. The Bernalillo Spartans also joined the league in 2016 to expand the total number of teams to seven. With the added teams, district play begins three weeks sooner than other districts and places a premium on each game, as it applies to both overall and district records.
Battle of the ‘unbeatens’
The two remaining undefeated teams in Class 4A will clash on Las Vegas’ east side, as Taos takes its perfect record and No. 3 ranking to Cardinal Stadium to challenge the No. 2 Robertson Cardinals for the district (and state) top spot Sept. 29.
This second consecutive road game is the first test in a tough stretch of games for the Tigers, who will play St. Michael’s at home Oct. 6 and West Las Vegas on the road Oct. 20.
This is also Robertson’s homecoming night, and Taos will be attempting to end a losing streak against the Cardinals that dates back to the late ‘90s.
The big rivalry game of the year is expected to fill up, so Taos fans are encouraged to purchase their game tickets early to secure a seat. Game time is 7 p.m.