It’s tricky business figuring out the Santa Rosa misdirection offense.
For Tucumcari on Friday night, shutting down the Lions took a full half to do. And that was enough for Santa Rosa (8-0, 1-0 in 2-2A) to pad a 28-7 lead over the host Rattlers en route to a big district victory.
In a battle of football unbeatens, a spirited comeback by the Rattlers ended when Santa Rosa defensive back Joey Martinez picked off a pass in the end zone from Tucumcari quarterback Josh Benavidez to seal a Lions’ 28-21 victory.
“When you play a good ball club like Santa Rosa — and they are a good ball club — you can’t let them get up like that, but our kids sure came back,” Tucumcari coach Dub Smith said. “We got down to the two yard line and got a penalty. Unfortunately, that did us in really.”
Tucumcari (8-1, 1-1) got two touchdowns in the second half — both on fourth-down conversion attempts — to draw within a single score of the Lions. With 4:42 left in the third quarter, Benavidez hit Adrian Jones for an 18-yard TD pass to make the score 28-14.
Then, after the Rattlers survived a lost fumble and an ensuing Santa Rosa drive that went all the way to the 1-yard line, Benavidez turned a fourth-and-11 situation into a scramble out of the pocket — and a 44-yard touchdown run with 5:29 left in the game.
The home team’s final drive began when Santa Rosa lost a fumble of its own with 3:27 on the clock.
But, like the Lions’ earlier penetration to the one, Tucumcari had the ball at the edge of the end zone (at the two yard line) only to be pushed back 5 yards on an illegal procedure penalty. After Benavidez was sacked by Santa Rosa’s Steven Vigil, the Rattlers’ quarterback was picked by Martinez to clinch the Lions’ win.
“We were real good in the second half. It’s just that, in the first half, they got a little too much,” Benavidez said.
In the first half, Vigil and fellow Lions’ back Joaquin Gonzales ran roughshod through the Tucumcari defense to build up the big lead.
Vigil finished with 134 yards rushing while Gonzales, who had three short TD runs, gathered 100 on the night.
“I think the first half, really, made the difference in the ballgame,” Smith said. “Our kids came back and played a super second half. We didn’t play near as well, in the first half, offensively or defensively.”
Santa Rosa, which never punted before intermission, took the opening kickoff 51 yards for a 6-0 lead when Gonzales plunged in from the two. A 4-yard touchdown run from Gonzales, again followed by a missed conversion attempt, put the Lions’ up 12-0 with 3:47 left in the first quarter.
Tucumcari sliced into that lead on a 43-yard run by D.J. Martinez to make the score 12-7. But the Lions had a short field for two more drives that ended with TDs — one 50-yard drive culminated in a 2-yard run by Vigil and, following a long punt return by Gonzales, a drive that started at the Tucumcari 24 ended with a 6-yard touchdown by Gonzales.
“It’s pretty tricky, but they have keys just like every other team,” said Tucumcari junior Brian Lopez, who was one of the Rattlers’ defensive lineman who helped limit the Santa Rosa attack to only 63 yards of total offense in the second half.
“It’s tricky, but you get used to it,” Lopez said.
Tucumcari, which will host Class 3A Bernalillo next week, was led by Benavidez’ 127 yards passing — 83 of those to Jones on four completions.
Martinez led the Rattlers with 63 yards rushing while Benavidez chipped in with 47 — a total that included the absorption of four sacks.
The Rattlers played most of the game without standout back Eric Holt, who injured an ankle last week and aggravated it while on defense on Santa Rosa’s first possession.
“We hadn’t even suited him up this week. He had a severe ankle injury, started on defense and immediately reinjured it,” Smith said. “It’s one of those deals where we hope, two weeks from now, he’ll be healthy for the playoffs.”
Santa Rosa 28, Tucumcari 21
Santa Rosa 12 16 0 0 — 28
Tucumcari 7 0 7 7 — 21
Scoring: Santa Rosa, Joaquin Gonzales 2 run (kick blocked); Santa Rosa, Gonzales 4 run (conversion failed); Tucumcari, D.J. Martinez 43 run (Anas Badshah kick); Santa Rosa, Steven Vigil 2 run (Vigil conversion run); Santa Rosa, Gonzales 6 run (Vigil conversion run); Tucumcari, Adrian Jones 18 pass from Josh Benavidez (Badshah kick); Tucumcari, Benavidez 44 run (Badshah kick). Record: Santa Rosa 8-0, 1-0 in 2-2A; T 8-1, 1-1).