The North-South All-Star series is supposed to be a showcase of the top senior players in different sports in the state.
On Friday night, the Class 3A-4A football game turned into a grudge match that escalated into fights and the premature cancellation of the contest.
A fight with six seconds left in the first half led officials to call the game with the South leading 21-0 – that was the final score. It was the last straw in what was an increasingly chippy affair between the North and South teams, but it was one that left a couple of North coaches wondering why officials didn’t rein in the ill will.
The play that led to the halt came on a screen pass, but it was a block by a South player on a North defender away from the ball carrier that started the melee. The two players rolled out of bounds and the North player was knocked back down when he got up. Then players from both sidelines intervened as coaches and officials tried to separate the sides.
The head official then called the game moments after calm returned to the field.
“It just escalated,” said Taos head coach Art Abreu Jr., who was in attendance. “It spilled from the field to the sidelines and guys were up against the wall [to the stands]. It was very unfortunate to see something like that happen.”
However, Abreu and St. Michael’s head coach Joey Fernandez said the game was rife with personal foul penalties and a brief scuffle with 7:30 left in the second quarter that were preludes to the final incident.
“I wish the officials did a better job of controlling the game from the get-go,” Abreu said. “It was chippy, but it was like any other North-South game.”
Fernandez, who coached the North squad in 2014, said the players buy into the North vs. South rivalry and the game is often filled with a lot of jawing and talking by both sides.
However, Fernandez emphasized that the officials can take control of the game by talking to the team captains, calling unsportsmanlike penalties and even ejecting players. The first skirmish occurred when Portales’ Darian Ontiveros was roughly gang-tackled by North defenders, Fernandez said, and that led to players from both sidelines rushing onto the field.
“Emotions are going to be high, and the kids are going to do things when emotions are that high,” Fernandez said. “Fighting is one of them, and talking is another. There’s a benches-clearing altercation in the middle of the second quarter and there’s no penalty or nobody sitting down. They let it get out of hand.”