By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
LAS VEGAS, N.M. — It was an offensive standstill or a defensive slugfest, depending on the point of view, but for the South, the result was just fine.
The South earned a 7-6 victory in the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Class 3A all-star game, claiming its fifth triumph in the seven-year series.
Portales was represented by linebacker Taylor Teague, guard Chris Christensen and defensive lineman Erett Grubbs. Another former Ram, Eric Segovia, was on the sideline but not playing after he tweaked an ACL injury on the first day of South practice earlier in the week.
“It was fun,” said Christensen, who plans on walking on in football this fall at the University of New Mexico. “We played with heart, and that’s why we got the ‘W.’ I felt like I had to come out and play good and prove to myself that I can do something.”
Both touchdowns came in the first half. The North struck first when a proven combination from two time 3A champion Las Vegas Robertson hit paydirt as quarterback Ethan Maestas capped off a 70-yard drive by finding former Robertson mate Nathan Vigil for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
That play, the last one of the first quarter, put the North up 6-0. But Crownpoint kicker Dwayne Butler’s extra point attempt was low and blocked by the middle of the South defensive line.
The South offense was stagnant until just over three minutes remained in the first half. At the North 45, South quarterback John Chavez of Socorro — after a convincing fake — kept the ball and ran 11 yards for a first down.
“He’s been running that play for two years, so he knows what’s going on,” said South coach Ken Stevens, who coached Chavez at Socorro. “He does a real good job on that.
“We struggled quite a bit on offense. They (the North) did a real good job, so give them credit for that. But we made the plays when we had to.”
Chavez’ carry was followed by a 13-yard jaunt by Socorro running back Sefie Winders to the North 21. Six plays later, Robby Vickers of Hot Springs kept the ball out of a single-wing formation and plowed in from the three-yard line for a touchdown.
With 44 seconds left before intermission, the South added the extra point on a kick by NMMI’s Andrew Cowan to go ahead.
The North offense, which started well behind the quarterbacking of Maestas and the receiving of St. Michael’s Robbie Castillo, slowed down in the second half. South linemen, led by Hatch Valley’s Zane Dulin and Socorro’s Brian Tafoya, increasingly brought pressure as the game on Maestas, who finished with 177 yards passing.
Grubbs also got in on the action as the North seemed to get weary from the South defensive line chase.
“As the game got more and more into it, we were still fresh and they weren’t — I don’t think,” Grubbs said. “I feel like it got easier as the game got going.”
Castillo, who caught eight passes for 120 yards, earned Most Valuable Player honors for the North. Socorro’s Chato Alvarado, who grabbed three passes for 52 yards, was named MVP for the winning South.
“We were running a two-platoon while they were putting their best all the way around,” Vickers said. “All week long, our coach said that the first half was going to be a war, but in the second half we’d be fresh.”
All of the participants got individual awards as well. Though not most valuable in status, Grubbs couldn’t have been happier with the experience.
“These guys are my brothers,” said Grubbs, who received a scholarship to play at NMMI in the fall. “I believe that we played with more heart and played with more tenacity and physicality, and that’s why we won.”