McCurdy coach worries suspension decimates thin roster; appeal set for Friday
On a good day, McCurdy head football coach Ron Gallegos has just 17 able-bodied varsity players to choose from.
When he rolled out of bed Thursday morning, he had just 14 players at his disposal with just 48 hours to prepare for his next game.
“We can put a team out there with 14 but, yeah, a forfeit is definitely a possibility,” he said. “Those three extra players [are] a big deal. It’s kind of a safety thing, you know? We need them.”
McCurdy had three players ejected in last week’s season opener against visiting Cloudcroft. It stemmed from a pass interference call midway through the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 62-33 win in Española.
That play led to several players engaging in a shoving match near the Cloudcroft sideline.
An immediate appeal on Gallegos’ part appears to have gotten two of those ejections overturned, plus gotten one Cloudcroft player retroactively tossed. A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning in Albuquerque to deal with the Bobcats’ third ejection.
Per New Mexico Activities Association rules, an ejected player is automatically ineligible for his team’s next game and must first complete an online sportsmanship course through the National Federation of State High School Associations before regaining eligibility.
Gallegos said all three of his players have completed the course, as well as written letters of apology to Cloudcroft and the NMAA. The unnamed Cloudcroft player has also reportedly completed the course, and Thursday called Gallegos to apologize.
“I feel bad because by the end of it, I almost had the young man in tears, but I told him bad behavior on the field can be a sign of bigger things later in life,” Gallegos said. “I told my guys the same thing. Lessons have to be learned.”
The play in question was a third-and-15 midway through the fourth quarter. McCurdy had the ball in its own territory when quarterback Santiago Samora drifted back into the pocket and threw a short pass over the middle toward receiver Ernesto Martinez.
Cloudcroft defensive back Nathan Toddy was flagged for pass interference when he bumped into Martinez, giving the Bobcats an automatic first down. In video provided to the media and NMAA by Gallegos, Martinez appears to put both of his hands on Toddy’s back immediately after the play just as one of the officials walks toward them to retrieve the ball.
That prompted one of Toddy’s teammates to shove Martinez to the ground in front of the official, starting a brief fracas near the Cloudcroft sideline. Several players jumped into the fray and at least two Bears coaches left the sideline as the referees ran into the mix blowing their whistles.
Martinez and Nikko Valdez, both McCurdy seniors, got ejected, as did sophomore Michael Trujillo. No one from Cloudcroft was kicked out.
The coaches in question were allowed, per NMAA policy, to be on the field since they were trying to restore order and separate the teams.
No one from McCurdy is shown running onto the field in the game film. Toward the end of the footage, Gallegos can be heard telling his players and assistant coaches to stay on the sidelines.
He said the explanation he got in the aftermath was less than satisfactory.
“The refs told me our guy, No. 72, was kicked out and I had to tell them the only 72 we have is an eighth-grader who was standing over here next to me on the bench,” Gallegos said. “Then they told me it was a 70-something number, so they looked around and saw [Trujillo] and threw him out.”
Trujillo was definitely in the mix but the game tape doesn’t show him do anything other than stand amid the scrum without engaging. Gallegos admits that Valdez was in the middle of it, that he did force at least one Cloudcroft player to the ground and throw what appears to be a punch as he drops to his knees.
Valdez will travel with his mother, Gallegos and McCurdy athletic director Christian Lopez to the NMAA’s headquarters Friday morning to have a hearing with Executive Director Sally Marquez. Gallegos doesn’t anticipate getting Valdez’s suspension overturned, but is at least somewhat relieved he’s not entirely shorthanded going into Saturday’s home game against Cuba.
“I mean, we’ll play with what we have, but I was telling the NMAA that those seniors are going to be replaced by freshmen and eighth-graders,” Gallegos said. “It’s hard enough having a team with just 17 varsity-level players. Losing anyone at this point makes it even harder.”