At the end of a stormy football game in Estancia on Sept. 23, Bears head coach Stewart Burnett summed up the battle in one sentence to his players: “You guys just beat an undefeated team!”
After a lightning delay held up the opening kickoff for 30 minutes, Estancia bolted to an early lead against the previously unbeaten Class 3A Hatch Valley Bears.
But as a steady drizzle soaked the players and fans, Hatch stayed within striking distance, and when Estancia fell behind in the second half, it took a solid rally for the home Bears to defeat the visiting Bears 54-36.
“They played with a lot of passion,” Burnett said of his team, noting that Hatch brought 42 players and Estancia had a scant 14 players suited up.
Estancia struck first when Josh Calhoon charged through the right side on the second play from scrimmage and sprinted 66 yards to the end zone.
“I couldn’t do it without my blockers,” Calhoon said. “It’s all on my linemen, and once I saw an open field, I just went for it.”
A botched snap on a punt attempt that bounced through the back of the end zone resulted in a safety and two points for Hatch.
On the Bears’ next possession, quarterback Ja’Brae Boyer launched a 38-yard touchdown pass to Aiden Boyle to go up 13-2.
Boyer ran for a 44-yard TD a minute later to extend the lead to 20-2.
Hatch responded with a touchdown and 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 20-10 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Estancia recovered a Hatch fumble to set up Boyer’s second TD—an 8-yard plunge to make it 27-10.
Hatch’s Layton Gillis, the No. 2 running back in the state, scored on a 22-yard run to trim the margin to 27-16 at halftime.
Gillis capped the visiting Bears’ opening drive of the third quarter with a TD to make it 27-22. When Gillis scored on the next drive, Hatch pushed ahead 30-27.
“You know, we were super-aggressive early, we tried to hit ‘em over the top right away and it worked, and then I felt like we got kind of conservative,” Burnett said.
But the Bears came roaring back with a six-play drive that was capped with Boyle’s 6-yard scamper to regain the lead at 34-30.
“Way to answer!” Burnett yelled from the sidelines as the Bears came off the field.
“It was a great handoff, great blocking,” Boyle said.
On Estancia’s next drive, the Bears were facing fourth-and-1 at the Hatch 6-yard line when Boyer rolled out to his right, cradled the rock under his arm and scooted in for a 40-30 lead at the end of the third quarter.
“That was such a good decision by Ja’Brae,” Burnett said. “It was an intended pass, and it just wasn’t there, and he just pulled it and punched it in, I mean, that was a fantastic play.”
“Ya know, I think that scoring drive gave us the energy to keep pushing and finish the game,” Boyer said.
Early in the fourth, Hatch put together a scoring drive to narrow the gap to 40-36.
Boyer connected with Colin Pope on a 13-yard TD pass with 3:36 remaining in the game. Two Hatch defenders were all over Pope when he caught the pass on the goal line near the pylon on the right side.
“Ja’Brae threw it, and if he throws it to me I gotta catch it, can’t drop it,” Boyle said.
Calhoon slammed the door with a 24-yard run for his second TD with under a minute left. He led the Bears’ rushing attack with 141 yards on 17 carries.
“This is the first time in a long time we’ve beaten a good team, so that alone is huge,” Burnett said. “We lost three in a row, now we’ve won three in a row—hopefully we can build on it.”