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Grand goal-line stand delivers Taos its first state title

December 3, 2018

TAOS — The Taos Tigers call fourth down “the money down,” and Isaiah Martinez cashed in Saturday afternoon.

A Class 4A football title was on the line, and the Bloomfield Bobcats were six yards away from possibly forcing overtime in the state championship against Taos at Anaya Field. They were also one play away from sending the more than 1,000 fans clad in Taos orange and black into a frenzy. So, when Bloomfield quarterback Rogelio Gonzales rolled out to his right, he had desperation in his eyes looking for something, anything to keep Bloomfield’s hope alive.

It came crashing down with the right hand of Martinez, who grabbed Gonzales by the back of the jersey and brought him down for a 1-yard loss that turned the ball over to the Tigers with 1 minutes, 25 seconds left. It was the clinching play that gave the third-seeded Tigers a 14-7 win and their first football title.

However, Martinez admitted he was careful in how he brought down Gonzales, for fear of incurring a penalty that would extend the possession.

“He was running and I tried grabbing him and I almost horse-collared him,” Martinez said. “But then I got him.”

It was a spectacular finish on a defensive performance that was truly championship worthy, and what better way to cap it than with a goal-line stand? The moment arose when Gonzales flipped a short pass to running back Kenyon Mosley, who ran to the Taos 2-yard line with 2:20 left.

The Tigers didn’t have much of a chance to think about the stakes against the No. 5 Bobcats, but that was the way Taos head coach Art Abreu Jr. wanted it.

“That’s what we preached to our boys from January to December 1st,” Abreu Jr. said. “There is going to be some adversity throughout the game, and throughout life. You have to adapt, overcome and conquer those situations. But first-and-goal at the 2-yard line? That’s a tough scenario.”

Tough became easier on first down when the Tigers stuffed Josh Maestas for a 3-yard loss. Then Josh Moraga stopped Gonzales on keeper for a 1-yard loss that forced the Bobcats to use a timeout with 1:41 left. Bloomfield (9-5) almost broke through on third down when Gonzales rolled to his right and fired a pass to Vincent Marquez, but he couldn’t gather the ball before it touched the turf. Then came Martinez’s clinching tackle and the celebration began.

First, the Tigers had to make what Abreu Jr. called the “three best calls of the day” — three kneel-downs by quarterback Justin Good to run out the clock. The head coach said that because it was not a day for the offenses.

Bloomfield scored on a 43-yard strike from Gonzales to Noah Gurule with 2:32 left in the first half that tied the score at 7-all.

The Bobcats outgained the Tigers 149-96 overall, but 83 yards came on their two big plays.

The winning score for Taos came by way of special teams when junior Noah Armijo made the biggest play of his football career. With the Bobcats prepared to punt from their own 8, Gurule whiffed on connecting with the ball, and Armijo raced in to swoop on the ball in the end zone. The touchdown made it 14-7 with 1:44 left in the third quarter.

The key was a chop block penalty the play earlier, which nullified a Gurule punt that would have put Taos inside its own 20. Reprieved, the Tigers coaching staff decided to go for the block.

“We were calling that all the way,” Armijo said. “Good thing we executed. It came out amazing in the end.”

Otherwise, the defenses went hit-for-hit. Taos broke a 51-yard run by Justin Good on its first drive, but it was nullified by a holding penalty.

That penalty seemed to take the steam out of the Tigers, who opened the game with a 79-yard touchdown on the kickoff by Jonathan Garcia on a “star burst” play. The initial returner turns his back to the oncoming rush and a series of potential runners fake taking the handoff until one gets it.

Garcia just happened to be the one, and he went almost untouched into the end zone down the left sideline.

“We’ve run that play a few times, but it’s never opened up like that,” Garcia said. “I think that is the first kick-return touchdown we had all year.”

While it wasn’t the prettiest execution of a championship game plan, it fit the mold of what Abreu called “Taos football.”

When he got his team together for a post-game chat, with parents, students, fans, well-wishers and lookers-on, Abreu expressed to his team what that all meant. In four years, he built a program that went from 4-6 to the most wins in program history and a piece of hardware that will have its own special place in Taos lore.

“You guys followed me through thick and thin,” Abreu Jr. told his players. “You followed me through the depths of hell. It’s not easy hanging out with me. But hey, what you just did on that goal line, that will be talked about for years.”

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