Manzano High’s football team secured two playoff wins and earned its first trip to the state semifinals since 2011—the farthest the team has gone under head coach Chad Adcox—but the Monarchs reached the end of the line last Saturday when they went up against the No. 1 Rio Rancho Rams.

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Manzano wide receiver Andrew Erickson trying to scratch out a few more yards after a catch during last Saturday’s 6A semifinal against Rio Rancho. Photo by G. Demarest.

“I thought we competed, we hung in there, we made them work for it,” Adcox said of the Monarchs’ 35-7 season-ending defeat.

The No. 5 Monarchs (10-3 overall, 5-0 District 2-6A) put up a good fight, especially in the first half. But in the end, Manzano just couldn’t keep up with the top-ranked Rams.

“Rio Rancho is an amazing team,” said Andrew Erickson, Manzano’s junior wide receiver who lives in Sandia Park. “We had opportunities but we just didn’t capitalize, and that’s what happens when you play a really good team like that.”

The Rams never trailed, scoring midway through the first quarter on running back Josh Foley’s first of three touchdowns.

The Monarchs responded with their best offensive drive of the game: a 10-play march that was buoyed by a leaping 20-yard catch by Erickson and a 24-yard run by Xavier Ivey-saud. “We got some momentum going there, and we were executing,” Erickson said.

The Monarchs got inside the Rams 10-yard line but a false start penalty knocked them back to the 12. Facing third-and-10, Erickson caught a screen pass and barreled his way to the 5-yard line.

The Monarchs went for it on fourth-and-3 and Jordan Byrd’s quarterback sneak appeared to have eked out the needed distance for the first down. But the referee spotted the ball at the 3-yard line—a yard short for the Monarchs.

Jordan Byrd racing downfield on his way to Manzano’s only touchdown against Rio Rancho. Photo by G. Demarest.

“Them stopping us was a tough one,” Adcox said. “It looked like we got to the two, but the ref said ‘No,’ so that one hurt, because it could’ve been 7-7 at that point.”

Foley’s second TD near the end of the first quarter increased the Rams’ margin to 14-0.

The Monarchs got on the board midway through the second quarter when Byrd faked a hand-off, ran to his left, scampered past a herd of Rams and broke free for a 90-yard touchdown. “I read the blocks and it just ended up a good play,” Byrd said.

“He was patient, he bounced to the outside and was able to get around the corner,” Adcox added.

On Rio Rancho’s next possession, Manzano’s Alejandro Vallejos intercepted a pass, giving the ball back to the Monarchs near midfield.

But the Monarchs fumbled the ball on first down and Rio Rancho recovered.

Five plays later the Rams added another touchdown to pad their lead to 21-7 at halftime.

“We get the turnover, we have a chance to do something and we turned it right back over—I think that one really hurt us,” Adcox said.

In the second half, the Monarchs couldn’t get their offense on track and the Rams put the game out of reach with two more TDs.

Following the game, Byrd spent several minutes hugging and consoling his teammates.

“I gotta keep my team up, you know. I mean, it didn’t come out good but we played our hearts out,” Byrd said, adding, “Coming this far, it really showed that we’re a brotherhood.”

Adcox then circled his players and reminded them to keep their heads up. “We didn’t get it done today,” the coach said. “But we’re gonna walk outta here as a team, as Monarchs.”

Reflecting on reaching the semifinals for the first time as the team’s skipper, Adcox said his goal is to move the program forward by improving every season.

“I think we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “And we’re going to bring back a good chunk of guys from this group so I’m excited.”