That was especially true in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class A state semifinal playoff game against McCurdy at Chic Martinez Field, a game the visiting Lobos won 41-34 to earn a berth in next weekend’s state championship game at Capitan. They used a grinding ground attack to chew up most of the final nine minutes to preserve the win and earn the school’s first berth in the title game.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday. Capitan (8-3) is the No. 5 seed; Escalante (11-1) No. 3.
McCurdy, which entered as the No. 2 overall seed, ends its season 8-2. The Bobcats had beaten the Lobos in a wild 54-46 shootout just two weeks ago, but this time they were without the services of starting quarterback Eric Vigil Jr. The senior was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament in that first meeting.
“I don’t even care that this means we’re going to practice on Thanksgiving,” said Escalante offensive lineman and linebacker C.J. Deyapp. “That was the goal all along. My Thanksgiving feast is smashing faces. My Thanksgiving treat is playing football.”
The Lobos took over on downs after stuffing McCurdy backup quarterback Santiago Lovato 4 yards short of the end zone on fourth down with 9 minutes, 16 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Escalante was nursing a 35-27 lead and Lovato’s run could have tied it.
“I just turned to my offense and said, ‘Guys, we need a drive that lasts nine and a half minutes,’ ” said Lobos head coach Dusty Giles. “It didn’t quite last that long, but it pretty much did the job for us.”
The drive covered 96 yards on 15 plays and burned 8:11 off the clock. As has been the case with the vast majority of Lobos possessions all season, it was almost entirely short runs through traffic by quarterback Reynaldo Atencio and running back Cody Casados.
One of those two (and sometimes both) touched the ball on every offensive snap Saturday. On the final drive, they traded carries that mostly covered four to eight yards at a time. It had McCurdy fans barking for a stop and Lobos fans calling for more. Each snap wrung precious seconds off the clock. Every first down assured another three or four cracks at grinding McCurdy’s hopes to dust.
It finally ended when Atencio, who has now rushed for nearly 2,600 yards this season, converted a third-and-8 play by breaking several tackles en route to a 24-yard touchdown run with 1:05 left in the game. Although the Bobcats scored on their very next play to get back within striking distance with 44 seconds left, a recovered onside kick put a stop to the rally and signaled the start of a wild celebration on Escalante’s sideline.
Asked what the win meant to the fans back home in Tierra Amarilla, Giles laughed.
“I think I just got a hug from every person up there,” he said. “This is bigger than I can describe.”
Like the teams’ first meeting on Nov. 2, this one drew a huge swell of fans from both sides. What few bleacher seats were available were gone well before kickoff. The remaining fans — easily tripling those in the grandstand — found what few spaces there were beyond the yellow caution tape along the sidelines and each end zone.
The final horn produced the usual gamut of tears from the losers and jubilation from the winners. Casados said just getting his team to the championship game was worth it — especially with a win over heated rival McCurdy in the semifinals.
“This team has worked together for so long, we believed we could do this,” he said. “That first game, we knew we could be better.”
Casados finished with 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Atencio had 191 with four scores. He also passed for another 46, helping offset a 350-yard passing day from McCurdy’s Lovato. As Vigil Jr.’s backup, he finished 15-for-21 with four touchdowns, but he was picked off three times and sacked five times by a relentless blitzing defense.
Randy Trujillo had 132 yards receiving on seven catches and three touchdowns for the Bobcats.