The Mustangs got a bit of payback last week in the opening round of the 6-man playoffs, beating Elida 59-40.
It made up for a regular-season loss when Mountainair led at halftime before squandering the lead in the third quarter. The Mustangs made sure that was not going to happen again, coach Robert Zamora said.
“We got on them right away,” he said. “We controlled the game. What I was proud of, they came back twice within six points and our guys held them off and kept fighting. They never got their head down. They really played with poise and control.”
Given the way the team entered the game, Zamora was optimistic about the outcome.
“We had a good week of practice and they continued that into Friday,” he said. “They came out strong and played tough, confident. We had a game plan and stuck to the game plan. The kids did a good job of executing.”
Seniors Diego Luna and Hayden Bingham both had strong games, as did Ohmani Nieto, Zamora said.
“He really took control,” Zamora said of Nieto. “So it opened things up for all the young guys.”
The big key to the game, however, was the Mustangs’ preparation and attitude.
“We talked about how we didn’t execute the first time and the mistakes that we made and that we couldn’t do that again,” Zamora said. “We knew what kind of team we have and we knew what we could do. So that was our focus, to play a complete game.”
Fifth-seeded Mountainair (6-3) will have to play a complete game and then some against tonight for a home semifinal game against No. 1 Gateway Christian (9-0), which is the two-time defending champions and have won 32 straight games. The Warriors last loss came at the hands of Mountainair in the abbreviated spring 2021 season. And Gateway beat the Mustangs in last season’s championship game 53-14 for their only loss of the year.
“They don’t have no weak spots, They’re a tough team,” Zamora said. “We’ve just got to do what we do. We’ve got to play a complete game. Play our best game of the season and that’s all you can ask for and see what happens.”
With a roster of about 25 players, the Warriors could easily fit into Class 1A so for six-man, that means they’re stacked, Zamora said, adding Mountainair checks in with a roster about half that size.
“I’m proud of our home grown kids,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade out kids for anybody. I’m not worried about what they do. We know what they do. They’re loaded. Those private schools get loaded up. We’ve just got to go and play hard.”
Matters played just as Bears coach Stewart Burnett anticipated as his squad walloped Capitan 62-12 in a mercy-rule game to earn a seventh-seed in the state playoffs.
That means Estancia (4-6) is off to Texico (8-2) for a 1 p.m. game Nov. 4 in what will be a rematch of the season opener, which went to the visiting Wolverines 52-22.
Against the Tigers, quarterback Joshua Calhoon kept up his noteworthy season, again topping 200 yards and pushing him more than 2,300 yards on the season. He’s fifth back since Burnett took over the program 12 years ago to top 2,000 yards in a season and he’s second overall in that time frame, the coach said.
Pablo Regalado had a big game, ripping a season-long 40-yard touchdown run. And Freshmen Jacob Regalado and Daniel Hernandez each had interceptions.
In all, it was the type of game the Bears needed before the trip to Texico, Burnett said.
“Even guys who haven’t gotten as much time, we were able to get a lot of young guys in there,” he said.
That might not matter much against the high-powered Wolverines, who have a strong rushing attack led by back Alex Fuentes and quarterback Cade Figg, who also is quite capable of airing it out.
“We’re definitely looking at a pretty steep hill this week, which is OK,” Burnett said. “We worked on some stuff this week, game-plan wise. We have nothing to lose. It sounds cliché, I know. We’ll take some chances. Do some out-of-the-box things that we haven’t done all year.”
While Burnett realizes an upset is not very likely, this does provide both a measuring stick for how far the team come during the season, as well as peek at what next year’s squad could evolve into.
“Personnel-wise, we are not the same as we were in week one,” he said. That’s probably to our detriment. But this is a chance for our guys, for our young guys, to see how much have these young kids grown from week one to week 11. That’s what I’m really curious to see.”
In the end, the Pintos simply did not have enough healthy bodies to continue moving forward and a season that started with such promise after a 4-0 start end with Moriarty (5-5) missing out on the playoffs.
“We had a lot of young guys out there,” coach Gabe Romero said of the season-ending 21-12 loss to Taos. “That was kind of tough.”
The Pintos’ season took a thumping in week 5 in a hard-fought 14-7 loss to also undefeated Bernalillo.
“We got off to that great start and things looked really good,” Romero said. “We lost a lot of momentum when we lost to Bernalillo and even more when Miyamura came back on us. We just couldn’t to seem to get that momentum back again. We kind of flat-lined. And it kind of stuck for some reason.”
After that, Moriarty simply couldn’t put enough healthy, experienced players on the field to be successful.
By the finale, there were five freshmen playing on the defense and tow on offense.
Still, Romero said the Pintos put up the good fight.
“I’m real impressed with the way those young guys filled in and the way they played,” he said. “It’s a bright spot for our future.”
Moriarty has 13 seniors that will be leaving the program, nine of which saw significant playing time, so the Pintos will have some holes to fill.
But with the JV’s performance, Romero is convinced that better days are ahead.
“I thought our JV was pretty successful,” he said. “It’s always tough when you lose seniors like that. They did a good job for us. But looking ahead based on what the JV did and what the younger guys did on Friday night, I think we’ve got some guys that hopefully when we give them an off-season of training, will be ready to step into those spots where we need them next year.”