About a minute after the start of Estancia High School’s Oct. 12 football game, the yellow flags started flying—and they kept flying right up to the bizarre ending that left spectators wondering what had just happened.

Despite four touchdowns that were nullified by penalties, the Bears rolled to their fourth-consecutive victory: a 52-0 homecoming blowout over the visiting Mescalero Apache Chiefs.

On the third play of Estancia’s opening drive, running back Andrew Lujan burst through a hole and ran 73 yards for a would-be touchdown.

But the score was erased because a referee claimed Estancia had used an illegal formation.

[The referees] started complaining about our formation before the game even started,” Estancia head coach Stewart Burnett said. “They were telling our kids they can’t block the way they were blocking, it was just a bunch of nonsense. I was doing my best to stay level-headed with the officials.”

On the next play, Josh Thomas darted down the sideline untouched for a 78-yard touchdown, the first of his four TDs in the game.

Estancia Bears watching and waiting for the outcome on an injured teammate during their win over Mescalero Apache. Photo by G. Demarest.

Mescalero Apache (2-6, 0-3) went nowhere on its opening drive, but during the possession a Mescalero player plowed helmet-to-helmet into Estancia’s Marino Noblitt-Rivera and was flagged for a personal foul.

Noblitt-Rivera lay on the ground for several minutes before being helped off the field.

When the game resumed, Lujan returned the Chiefs’ punt 85 yards for a touchdown to put the Bears up 13-0.

On Estancia’s next possession, a 55-yard TD run by Lujan and a 65-yard touchdown pass reception by Brian Walker were both negated by flags.

Cruz Moreno then floated a pass to Drayton Oberg, who caught it at midfield and dashed to the end zone for a 70-yard catch-and-run TD. A few minutes later, Lujan scored on a 78-yard run for his second touchdown to push the Bears’ lead to 26-0 near the end of the first quarter.

On the Bears next possession, the refs threw four flags during five plays, nullifying two more touchdowns—one by Lujan and another by Thomas.

Thomas then scored on a 48-yard run early in the second quarter to push the lead to 33-0.

Thomas added two more second-quarter rushing TDs, a 1-yarder and a 49-yarder, to extend the Bears’ lead to 46-0.

This was a big night for me, my last homecoming ever—I went hard on every play,” Thomas said. “Every game has its challenges, tonight it was the refs, but you can’t make excuses, just gotta fight through it.”

Thomas finished with 213 yards on six carries.

Oberg scored Estancia’s final TD when he picked off a Chiefs’ pass and returned it 60 yards, making the score 52-0 with just under six minutes remaining in the second quarter.

On Mescalero’s following possession, Estancia’s Garrett Noblitt intercepted another Chiefs’ pass, giving the Bears possession and setting up the odd ending.

High school football’s mercy rule states that a game concludes when one team reaches a 50-point advantage, but the game must reach halftime. The rule also calls for a running, non-stop clock once there’s a 35-point differential.

With 4:25 left on the clock before halftime, Estancia’s players and coaches marched to the end zone at the south end of the field and took a knee while the referees stood at midfield staring at them.

After a few minutes of standoff, with some spectators asking what was happening, the head referee threw one last flag and Burnett walked to midfield.

Following a brief discussion, the head ref instructed the booth to wind the clock down to 0, and the game concluded.

We were up 52-0, I was just trying to get out without getting anybody tossed or anyone else hurt,” Burnett said. “So, I just told the boys to huddle in the end zone, let them throw a delay-of-game flag, and we were just gonna run the clock all the way down.”

Burnett noted that he didn’t want to get into a power struggle with the head referee, who wanted Estancia to continue running plays.

So, I was like, ‘OK, we’ll just end it this way,’” he said.

Estancia (5-3, 3-0) has a bye week followed by its final district game Oct. 26 against Lordsburg.