The moment the clock ran out and Moriarty had defeated the visiting Albuquerque Academy Chargers in the Nov. 12 Class 4A state quarterfinals, the Pintos headed to their bench buzzing with jubilation.

Moriarty lineman Preston Hatten thrust his arms up and pointed both index fingers to the sky as it lit up with fireworks. Senior running back Kenneth Poyner clenched both his fists near his belt, tilted his head back and let out a celebrating yelp as he bounced toward the sideline.

None of the current players were in high school the last time Moriarty’s football team won a state quarterfinals contest, and after the game, head coach Gabe Romero emphasized to them the gravity of their 20-14 victory over fifth-seeded Albuquerque Academy.

“There’s gonna be four teams left at the end of this weekend, and we’re gonna be one of them!” Romero told the players as they knelt on the field, the fireworks still booming overhead.

Except for one big play, Moriarty’s defense kept Academy in check for most of the game and the Pintos’ offense got into the end zone three times.

The knockout punch came in the fourth quarter when Moriarty got the ball with 4:22 remaining, and the No. 4 Pintos consumed every second off the game clock to keep the ball out of the Chargers’ hands.

“When we got the ball back, I looked at the clock, you know, sometimes that four minutes is an eternity,” Romero said. “So, we knew that we had to keep possession of that ball, and we just challenged our kids, ‘Let’s go get a first down,’ and you know, they rose up to the occasion right there and ended up making two big first downs.”

One of the first downs on Moriarty’s final possession came on fourth-and-1 at the Pintos 47-yard line, when Amare Gonzales gained 3 yards on a quarterback keeper.

“Yeah, I knew it had to happen for the team,” Gonzales said. “I like coming up in big situations.”

The final first down came on third-and 5 with 1:30 left. Andres Lopez broke a couple of tackles and powered his way to the Academy 34-yard line.

“He did everything he could to make sure he picked up that first down, and it sealed the game,” Romero said.

The Pintos opened the game with an 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ate up nearly half of the first quarter. Gonzales capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge and David Vaquera nailed the PAT to put the Pintos up 7-0.

“I was like, we gotta go up there and catch ‘em off guard, blow through their line and get in the end zone,” Gonzales said. “We had to have that happen—get us going right away.”

Cayden Dunn intercepted a pass on Academy’s opening drive, and Erik “Gray” Wolf picked off a pass on the Chargers’ next possession. Moriarty’s defense forced Academy to punt on its only other possession of the first half and the Pintos held a 7-0 lead at halftime.

On the first play of the third quarter, Academy fumbled the ball and Moriarty recovered.

That set up a five-play scoring drive that Dunn finished off when he scurried through a crater in the middle of the line for a 7-yard touchdown.

“I got really good blocking so it was pretty easy, I just had to run through the hole,” Dunn said.

Academy came up with its big play of the game on its next possession—an 85-yard touchdown pass to cut Moriarty’s lead to 13-7.

Moriarty responded with a seven-play scoring drive to extend the lead to 20-7 with 3:46 left in the third. The drive was propelled by a 38-yard run by Poyner, and a 26-yard pass that Gonzalez lofted to Lopez who caught the ball and fell out of bounds at the Academy 5-yard line. Dunn capped the drive with a 1-yard scamper around the left side, bowling over an Academy defender on the way.

“Yeah, I just kinda came around the corner and there was this one dude in my way, and I mean, we’re at the goal line, I’m gonna try and get in there and you ain’t gonna stop me,” Dunn said.

Dunn, who’s still nursing a sore knee, only had 11 yards rushing.

Five other Pintos added to the rushing attack, including Lopez, who totaled 97 yards on 11 carries. The workhorse of the Pintos’ ground game was Poyner, who carried the rock 23 times for 132 yards.

Near the end of the third quarter, Moriarty’s Corban Pearce sacked Academy’s quarterback, forcing the Chargers to punt. Early in the fourth quarter, Matthew Romero picked off an Academy pass to stop a Chargers’ drive.

“Our defense played lights out,” coach Romero said.

Academy scored on its final drive of the game to trim Moriarty’s lead to 20-14 with 4:22 left in the game.

Academy then attempted an onside kick, but the Pintos came up with it.

Nine plays later, Gonzales took the snap, kneeled on the turf at the Academy 37-yard line to run out the clock, and the Pintos secured their first victory in the state quarterfinals since 2015.

“It was a good game,” coach Romero said. “Coming in, we knew they were gonna be tough, and it was just an all-out team effort.”

The Pintos have won seven games in a row and will try to extend their winning streak to eight when they face the No. 1 Lovington Wildcats on Nov. 20 in the 4A semifinals.