During the first half of last week’s annual Class 3A/4A North-South All-Star football game, six area former high school players were among the athletes enjoying their last hurrah running the ball, blocking and tackling.

But the game—put on by the New Mexico High School Coaches Association—was marred by a benches-clearing scuffle that broke o

ut just before halftime, prompting the officials to end the event at that point with the South team leading 21-0.

“It’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen and I think the refs were well within their means to call it,” Estancia head football coach and athletic director Stewart Burnett said.

There had been some pushing and shoving earlier in the game that resulted in offsetting penalties. But the final straw came with :06 left in the second quarter, following a South pass completion along the sidelines near midfield, a few yards downfield from the South’s bench.

After the North defender tackled the South receiver and the two players tumbled out of bounds, more pushing and shoving ensued. Some players from the South bench ran over, fists started flying, and both benches cleared. It took officials and coaches a few minutes to break up the skirmish.

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When the dust settled, players from both teams began walking toward the locker rooms as the PA announcer explained that halftime was starting early, despite the :06 remaining on the clock.

But then he immediately announced, “Correction, that is the end of the game!”

Some fans booed while others chanted, “Let them play! Let them play!”

“Tempers flared, things got heated, and I think the decision by the officials was probably the right thing to do,” said Eric Stovall, Shiprock High School’s head football coach and skipper for the North team. “It’s not in the spirit of the game and we don’t want any kids getting hurt.”

“I feel pretty confident our boys were not involved and I’m proud of them for that—they did everything they could to stay above the fray,” Burnett said.

Before the unsportsmanlike conduct brought the game to its premature end, the area athletes—three former Moriarty High players and three former Estancia players—were seeing plenty of action on opposing sides of the scrimmage line.

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An interesting twist was the fact that the former Pintos—due to Moriarty’s current district alignment—played for the South squad, while the former Estancia players represented the North squad.

Estancia graduates Isaiah Chavez and Zeke Tapia served as starting quarterback and running back, respectively, while Hector Carreon started on defense.

On the second play of the game, Carreon burst into the backfield and tackled a South ball-carrier for a big loss. “I was a little nervous at the start of the game, but after that hit, I got it going,” Carreon said.

The South mounted two scoring drives that were capped by touchdown passes to take a 14-0 first quarter lead.

On three separate possessions, the North’s offense moved the ball inside the South’s 30-yard line before stalling without getting any points on the board.

One North possession was stymied by a sandwich tackle by Moriarty graduates Santiago Mora and Aaron Murphy.

“Aaron got to him first and I just came in and helped finish it,” Mora said.

Recent Moriarty grad Devin Christian also represented the South squad as an offensive lineman.

For decades, the annual North-South All-Star games have served as a curtain call for recently graduated high school athletes, giving them one last opportunity to play a high school game and possibly gain exposure from college scouts and recruiters.

“This was an incident that got out of hand but it’s not indicative of the kids or the North-South games,” said Buster Mabrey, director for the NMHSCA. “Most of the kids held themselves with the utmost character. But we have to do a better job of stopping these kind of things when they start.”