The St. Pius X Sartans, who won the 2016 5A State Championship and have been a thorn to Taos in the past, were redistricted back to 4A this year. And, their big …
The St. Pius X Sartans, who won the 2016 5A State Championship and have been a thorn to Taos in the past, were redistricted back to 4A this year. And, their big school ways apparently paid off in their 27-0 roll over the Taos Tigers in Albuquerque Saturday (Oct. 20).
Though the Taos defense did a commendable job, the Tigers were unable to hit their stride. The lack of rhythm combined with a series of turnovers and mistakes on special teams presented Pius X with many opportunities. The Sartans translated those openings into 20 points--plus seven more from a 40-plus yard pass from Derek Rivera to Isaiah Griffin in the third quarter--into a win.
The first of several onside kicks from the Sartans gave Taos the first possession. Instead of ending with Taos on the board like most games this season, a bobbled snap had quarterback Justin Good falling on the ball in the fifth play of the game, then throwing the first interception in the sixth.
The Tigers defense stood strong and prevented the Sartans from capitalizing on the turnover. Three and out saw the ball back in the hands of the Tigers. Taos rushed three times but were shy of the first down.
For most of what remained of the first quarter, the Sartans controlled the ball and the clock. Though they didn't make it to the end zone, a pass interference call followed immediately by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, both against the Tigers, left Taos with the ball on its own 3-yard line when the Sartans handed it over on downs.
Beginning the second quarter at 0-0 instead of their customary comfortable lead had the Taos sideline on edge. A false start made an uncharacteristic three penalties on the Tigers in four plays.
Taos and Pius X traded uneventful possessions until Taos got the ball back with about five and half minutes in the still scoreless half. Then Jonathan Garcia fumbled deep in Taos territory. Pius X recovered the ball on the 12-yard line and got its first six from a short drive. The extra point was blocked by Isaiah Martinez.
Another onside kick gave Taos the ball on the 39-yard line, but a couple of runs weren't enough for the first down. Brian Moraga was set to punt but, to the surprise of all, threw a pass to Jonathan Garcia on the outside--which was intercepted by the Sartans around the 47-yard line. A long quarterback sneak and a pass to Brody Cast put six more on the board, though the Tigers refused to yield the two-point conversion, making the game 12-0.
On their final possession of the half, Taos made it within field-goal range. Rather than try for three, they went for the first down. They came close but no cigar, leaving the Sartans with the ball around their own 25-yard line and little time.
At halftime, the Tigers went into the locker room down for the first time this season, but the large crowd of Taos fans was in good spirits.
Felipe Santistevan, the grandfather of Tiger Jonathan Garcia, was jovial. "Can't you see we're related?" he said, mirthful. "Everyone says we look alike. It's our calves." Seated nearby was his mother, aged 91, great-grandmother to Jonathan Garcia and also No. 7, Simon Torres, and his twin, cheerleader Cheyenne Torres.
Both family members have been supporting the Taos Tigers through many years, both on and off the field. Santistevan reported himself as "the smallest linebacker in the state" on the 1971 Tigers team. He grinned while remembering the first time his grandson Jonathan, now a Taos All-State track star, beat him in a footrace. Jonathan was 8 years old.
As his team took the field for the second half, Coach Abreu encouraged them. "Let's have some fun!" Fun was in short supply for Taos, however.
The frustration continued. The magic play that would shift the energy to favor the Tigers never materialized. Taos was shut out, allowing 21 more points, most of them on turnovers.
A restlessness circulated through the Taos crowd in the third quarter. By the fourth, shouts to the referees of "You've been one-sided all day!" and "It's about time you use that flag!" could be heard from the stands.
The Tigers had the final possession. They finished with their starters on the field, driving hard to end the game with a Taos touchdown. The Sartans defense kept the pressure on Justin Good and the intended receivers, and Taos left Milne Stadium without a point.
In his post-game discussion with his team, coach Art Abreu Jr. promised tough training and a way out for anyone who didn't want to go the distance.
"It's hard to win a football game when you lose the turnover game," coach Abreu remarked after sending the team to the locker room. He expressed remorse for the loss, citing himself as responsible.
The Tigers no longer have a perfect record for the season, but resilience and confidence come from knowing it is possible to get back up.
"We gotta get back to work on Monday," said Abreu, "back to playing our brand of football."
The Tigers are down, but not out. They play Pojoaque at home Friday (Oct. 26) at 7 p.m. and are on the road at Bernalillo Nov. 2. Wins will put them in good playoff position.
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