By Glen Rosales: QCS correspondent
HATCH — Tucumcari’s bid for its first Class 2A state football
championship since 2002 was effectively squashed by a Hatch Valley squad that piled up the yards and touchdowns.
Although senior running back Eric Holt rushed for 119 yards, the Rattlers (11-2) were never able to move the ball consistently, nor effectively stop the Bears’ wide-open offense in a 54-7 defeat.
“We didn’t play as well as we could and that’s what’s disappointing,” said Tucumcari coach Dub Smith. “We had two or three opportunities to get in the game and we didn’t do it. When you don’t take advantage of your opportunities against a team like that, you’re going to get beat.”
Despite the final score, it was actually a relatively close contest until the final quarter, when Hatch rolled up 27 points.
Trailing 27-7 at halftime and getting the ball to start the third quarter, Smith said his team felt like it still had a chance.
“We told them that if they could take it down and score, that we’d be right back in it,” he said.
Taking advantage of some large holes that the offensive line pried open, Holt and the Rattlers reached the Bears’ 36-yard line before bumping into a fourth-and-six.
Too far for a field goal and too close to punt, Tucumcari went for it, but Josh Benavidez’ hurried throw under pressure went awry.
And it took Hatch seven plays to take it back the other way for the score that essentially put the game out of reach.
Not that the Rattlers ever gave up, but on this day, the Bears simply had too much firepower to overcome.
“We’ve had games this year when we’ve played better than this,” Smith said. “But they’re a good team. They did a great job against us and that’s why they’re three-time state champs.”
Tucumcari had trouble sustaining its drives mainly because the passing game was ineffective and its offense had too many turnovers. The Rattlers lost three fumbles and Benavidez threw a key interception late in the first half.
Hatch coach Charles Gleghorn said his staff prepared three different defensive fronts to confuse the Rattlers.
“They have some really good players and they’re well-prepared so we wanted to make sure we had something ready for them,” he said.
Late in the second quarter, it appeared the Rattlers were ready to strike back.
Trailing 21-0, Tucumcari’s defensive line tipped a pass that was
intercepted by Adrian Jones at Hatch’s 44.
After picking up one first down, the Rattlers were facing a third-and-11 from the 34. Benavidez went down field with his pass, but it was wild and intercepted at the 10 by Frank Angel, who returned it 90 yards for a back-breaking score.
“I just know that we’re a better team than this,” Smith said. “But I’m proud of my guys to make it this far. There’s a bunch of other teams that would have liked to be here and weren’t. Our goal is to get back to the state championship game next year and win it.”