By Ryan Lengerich
On fourth down and 35-yards from the end zone with 7 seconds left in the game, a desperation heave into the end zone seemed to be Santa Rosa’s only hope.
It may have been.
Lions sophomore running back Steven Vigil got the call on a misdirection to the weak side and turned the corner with one man to beat when Rattler senior Andy Lau drilled Vigil to the ground at the 6-yard line.
The tackle gave the Rattlers (7-2, 2-0) a 28-26 win against rival Santa Rosa (5-3, 0-1), and their first outright district championship since 2000.
“I was just going to hit him out of bounds to keep him from scoring, I didn’t even know time ran out until I saw everyone over there cheering,” Lau said. “It feels great.”
The win gives the Rattlers home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs in two weeks.
The run heavy single-wing Santa Rosa offense ran all over the Rattlers amassing 531 total yards with 505-yards coming on 55 rushes. The Rattlers countered with 321 total yards including 265-yards on 43 carries.
The Rattlers hammered out 55-yards on the ground in their final offensive drive of the game. The drive started on the 45-yard line after a Santa Rosa fumble with the Lions leading 26-21.
The Rattlers pounded the Lions on the ground with 13 consecutive rushing plays including eight carries by sophomore Eric Holt, who capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Tucumcari survived two fourth down and 1-yard situations during the game winning drive.
“We’re a ball control ball team and we just plugged away and plugged away,” said Rattler head coach Dub Smith. “As long as we got the football they can’t score and the kids just did an unbelievable job.”
Holt finished the game with 26 carries for 128-yards and one touchdown.
“That was big,” said senior linebacker A.J. Molinas. “Our running backs sucked it up, our line blocked and everything worked out perfectly.”
Junior quarterback Chris McCasland added 55 rushing yards and 56 passing yards on 5-12 passing and one interception.
Santa Rosa opened game with a five play, 80-yard drive that took just 56 seconds ending with a 20-yard Kasey White touchdown. McCasland scored from 1-yard away on the Rattlers opening drive and a 6-yard strike to Lau plus an extra point made the score 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Santa Rosa answered quickly with a 60-yard drive finished with a 2-yard Vigil touchdown — one of three on the night.
The Rattlers forced the Lions to punt from their own end zone late in the half and took over at the 33-yard line.
McCasland scored on a broken pass play scramble on the next play and the Rattlers led 21-14 at the half.
Vigil would score on the Lion’s first drive of the second half and again on the first play of the fourth quarter. A punt by the Rattlers and the recovered fumble set the Rattlers up for the championship clinching drive.
“There is not a feeling like it,” Molinas said. “This is my last year and I enjoy every minute of it.”