A swarm of Manzano High School football fans stormed onto the field like a purple tidal wave.
The stadium announcer pleaded over the P.A. system to clear the field, but the unstoppable throng rushed the Manzano players and coaches—determined to hug, fist-bump, high-five, or just skip and dance around the 50-yard line in a wild frenzy.
The celebration erupted immediately after the top-ranked Monarchs (13-0) captured their first-ever state football title with a grinding 14-7 victory over the No. 2 La Cueva Bears in the Class 6A state championship last Saturday at Albuquerque’s Wilson Stadium.
Surrounded by his team, Manzano’s head coach Chad Adcox hoisted the turquoise trophy over his head as the players huddled together and cheered: “One, two, three, CHAMPIONS!”
“That’s history right there,” Adcox said, his shirt drenched from a ceremonial five-gallon water-jug dousing. “It’s pretty surreal right now, I just wanna give everyone on my team a hug.”
In the thick of the pandemonium, Manzano assistant coach Bobby Erickson ran to his son, Andrew—the Monarchs’ senior wide receiver—for that very same reason.
The two Ericksons—who live in Sandia Park—embraced each other for several seconds at midfield. “Oh man, it’s amazing. I’m speechless,” Andrew Erickson said. “I’m just blessed, I’m so happy.”
In a low-scoring battle between New Mexico’s top two teams, it was Erickson who scored the game-winning touchdown to boost the Monarchs to their first-ever undefeated season.
With 4:17 remaining in the game and the score knotted at 7-7, the Monarchs lined up at the La Cueva 48-yard line, with Erickson on the far left.
He swept to his right, took the handoff, burst through a hole as wide as the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns—courtesy of key blocks by teammates Jack Blankenship and Xavier Ivey-saud—and outran a quintet of Bears to the end zone.
“I really didn’t have to do anything,” Erickson said. “It was all my team—all I had to do was carry the ball in.”
The first half was a scoreless tug-of-war with both defenses duking it out like bighorn sheep hurling themselves at each other in a battle for dominance.
On their opening possession, the Bears got inside Manzano’s 10-yard line before the Monarchs halted the drive—and then blocked La Cueva’s field goal attempt.
The Monarchs subsequently marched downfield to the Bears 11 before turning the ball over on downs.
In the second quarter, Manzano’s defense caused two key turnovers: a fumble at the goal line, and a pass interception at the Monarchs 20-yard line. But the Bears’ defense was equally stout—and the game remained 0-0 at halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Manzano’s fleet-footed quarterback Jordan Byrd—who holds state titles in track—capped a seven-play drive when he rolled to the left, high-hurdled over two diving La Cueva defenders, and dashed 41 yards for the first touchdown of the game.
“They were stuffing our inside run game, so we tried attacking the edges and we were able to pop those two big plays by Jordan and Andrew,” Adcox said.
In the fourth quarter, the Bears drove downfield and scored their only touchdown with 7:40 remaining. La Cueva got one last possession with 34.4 seconds left and used a trio of passes to push to the Monarchs’ 41.
With the Manzano fans chanting, “We bleed purple!” La Cueva launched a deep desperation pass that fell incomplete near the end zone as time ran out.
Our defense was huge today,” Adcox said. “They proved they’re the number-one defense in the state.”
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]