If you hosted a prep football game at Española Valley and didn't allow fans in to see it, would anyone be able to tell the difference?
Friday's essentially meaningless game between the host Sundevils and visiting Albuquerque St. Pius X was played before 47 fans, all of them sitting behind the Sartans' bench and not one of them wearing the red and yellow of the home team.
All fans, except the parents of the 18 seniors on the St. Pius roster, were banned from contest. Not even the cheerleaders or pep bands were allowed in.
What few fans were there didn't arrive until 10 minutes before kickoff, thanks to a construction backup in Pojoaque. They were greeted by a team of security personnel who immediately informed them that cameras and video equipment were prohibited, as were all outside food and drinks and noisemakers.
Everyone else -- the media and game personnel -- had to use an alternate entrance and show photo identification to security guards holding a preapproved guest list.
It was all the result of an Oct. 5 brawl that halted the Española Valley-Bernalillo game in the first half, a brawl that ended with the Sundevils forfeiting and the New Mexico Activities Association banning all fans from the team's final home game.
"It's just weird not having anyone here for us," said Española Valley two-way starter Isaac Baca, one of just four remaining seniors on his team's roster.
Typically a senior's final home game is a cause for celebration. The player's parents are invited onto the field, his name is blared over the loudspeaker and he's usually gifted a flower bouquet or some sort of honorary memento.
In Baca's case, he trotted onto the field half an hour before kickoff minus the pomp and circumstance. The only noise all night was from a public address announcer in the press box situated atop a deserted home grandstand.
Not even the concession stand was open.
"I've been doing this a long time and I've never seen anything like this," said Española Valley head coach Miguel Medina, a man who has come under heavy fire for pulling his team off the field earlier this month when things got out of control. "In a lot of ways I don't think we ever recovered. This team, the school, the people around this community. We're still dealing with all the things that happened that week."
In the press box was Aaron Abeyta, the popular play-by-play man for SportsPrimo, the online broadcasting company who streams games on the internet. He, too, has seen a lot in his time covering sports, but not much compares to what he called Friday.
"You don't realize how much energy and excitement the band and the cheerleaders bring to a football game," he said. "You take them out, you take the fans out, you kind of take the life out."
Española Valley Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said the message from Friday's fan ban was unmistakable: "As adults we have to be the role models and the things that happened [Oct. 5] can't happen because you can't act that way in front of kids. If you break the rules, you pay the price."
But, she quickly added, the fact that St. Pius was able to appeal the NMAA's ruling and get the seniors' parents in, she would have liked the same opportunity for her side. Española Valley never got that chance, Gutierrez said.
"We never got a chance to present our side of the story," she said. "We also had parents of seniors that didn't misbehave and they're not here. If I could give some advice to the NMAA advisory board, many of whom are my colleagues as superintendents, would be if you're going to hear one side of the story, then you have to hear the other. Also, come and stand in my shoes and try to keep this organized, but we say one thing and do another. It has to be consistent."
It was almost an afterthought that Española Valley was simply no contest Friday. The Sundevils trailed only 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, 35-0 at halftime and spent the second half on the wrong end of the running clock.
Final score: St. Pius 49, Española Valley 0.
The loss drops the Sundevils to 2-7 overall, 0-4 in District 2/5-4A. St. Pius is 6-3, 4-0. The Sartans need a win or a Taos loss to clinch the district title.
"Man, what a weird week," St. Pius head coach David Montoya said. "We tried to treat this like any other game, but the circumstances are different. It wasn't hard getting these guys up to play this one, but coming out here in this environment where it's so quiet and you can hear everything that's going on -- just not a normal thing, you know?"
As they headed off the field, the last person left was Medina. The Sundevils' coach admitted he's been through more trying times, but the month gone by has made the 2018 season one for the personal memoirs.
His varsity roster has dwindled to 23 players. His starting quarterback, Makaio Frazier, quit after that Bernalillo game. Two more have left the team with injuries.
"I've had those 0-10 and 1-9 seasons where nothing goes right, but this one is weird because we've had so many things happen off the field," Medina said. "Nothing about this year has been easy, and the last month, you know, has been really really rough. I'm glad it's almost over."