Eric Butler: CNJ Correspondent
SANTA ROSA — A pair of early touchdown passes from Braden Vaughan to Tony Clements made the Texico faithful feel good about the Wolverines’ chances against Santa Rosa on Friday night.
But it wasn’t big plays that earned the Class 1A school a 21-14 victory over the perennial 2A power Lions.
Instead, it was a no-nonsense, punishing running attack straight up-the-gut that broke a halftime tie and kept Texico (6-0) undefeated heading into the district schedule next week.
At Santa Rosa, the Wolverines and Lions met each other for the first time on a football field in a clash of unbeatens.
Texico got touchdown passes of 67 and 27 yards from Vaughan to Clements before the first quarter was over, but reverted to an old-fashioned power running attack to in the second half to claim victory.
The Wolverines, in a 14-14 game, got the ball at their own seven with 2:08 left in the third quarter.
Fourteen plays later, and with over six minutes eaten up, Texico running back Johnny Serrano plowed in from the four-yard line for the go-ahead score.
All but one play on the drive was a rushing play up the middle.
The lone exception was a third-down, 12-yard outside pitch to Chris Phillips.
“The first half, we spread the ball a little more,” Vaughan said. “The second half, we just took it to ‘em.”
Santa Rosa (6-1), which scored first on a 34-yard run by Joaquin Gonzales and later got a 27-yard pass from Jarred Tapia to Steven Vigil, saw its last chance fail at the Texico 25 yard line with 3:51 left in the game. Two fumbles, albeit recovered by the Lions, and a dropped pass in the end zone gave the ball back to the Wolverines — who promptly ran out the clock with more rushing into the middle of the Santa Rosa defensive line.
Serrano finished with 89 yards on the ground while Phillips tallied 90.
Senior Blake Smith, with 32 yards rushing, was a major contributor on offense and defense, especially when Serrano twice had to leave the game temporarily with leg injuries.
“We love to play 2A opponents, because they don’t want to lose to us and we don’t want to get beat by them. It’s sort of like bragging rights and that’s one heckuva ball team that we just played,” said Logan Brown, a Texico defensive lineman, who spent much of his time Friday trying to figure out where the ball was going in Santa Rosa’s tricky and unique single-wing offense.
“We picked out a couple of keys and stuck with those. We really had to trust our coaches,” Brown said. “Everything is going every which way — you just have to trust your key. I think that’s the best our team has played, in the last five minutes of the game, all season.”
Santa Rosa had a chance to go ahead at the end of the first half, but Serrano blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt with five seconds before intermission.
In the second half, Texico’s defense stopped Santa Rosa on downs — after a failed fake punt — in its first possession. In the Lions’ next try, the home team punted without gaining a first down.
“There was one time I looked out there and I couldn’t find the ball,” said Texico coach Mike Prokop about defending the Lions. “I thought, well, I thought the ball was going over here. Their kids did some good things and they played hard.
“We tried some other things (offensively) early on and we needed to do that,” Prokop added. “We just said, in a close game like this, you have to go back to what you know best. And that’s what we did.”