A strong elixir of excitement made from mostly grit, equal parts of patience and persistence and a dash of good luck was brewing in the stuccoed cauldron of Milne Stadium Sept. 2. Fighting to lick the spoon were two insistent coaches who came to the brew-ha-ha with their own recipes and plenty of backup.
On the hallowed grounds of the historic arena – perfectly triangulated between downtown Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico – the Taos Tigers paid a visit to the host team, the Hope Christian Huskies, for a melee between two ascending squads in Class 4A. Touted as a “rubber match” of sorts, due to the recent history between the two teams, Taos came into the game with a slight edge in the Class 4A standings and on paper. But the notion of proving oneself on the field of play would be the requirement, as it took nearly the entire game to decide the eventual winner. Final score: Taos 27, Hope Christian 14.
Built in 1939, Milne is the longtime venue for football and track and field for Albuquerque Public Schools. The stadium has undergone several renovations throughout its 78-year history and has seen newer venues pop up in other parts of the Albuquerque metro area to alleviate its usage. The atmosphere Milne provides is a true gridiron experience for players, coaches and fans.
End of first quarter, 7-7
The Tigers found success on the ground in the first quarter, as Jonathan Garcia was able to find lanes through his offensive line and carried the ball for most of the initial 80-yard drive. The first score of the game came off a 15-yard rushing touchdown by the junior tailback. Mixing it up, coach Art Abreu Jr. allowed his quarterback to air out several passes of varying length. In the first quarter, Jude Suazo was 4 of 10 in passing. Taos controlled the tempo and the clock for most of the period.
Taos’ defense did a good job of keeping the Huskies offense out of the end zone, but an exorbitant amount of penalties against the Tigers caused self-inflicted wounds that allowed Hope to sustain drives and hampered Taos’ abilities to deliver blows.
With 1:30 left in the first quarter, Suazo threw an interception for a touchdown – allowing the Huskies to tie the game at 7-7.
“We don’t tolerate penalties on our sideline,” said Abreu, who acknowledged the high number of penalties ultimately cost the Tigers real points throughout the evening. “But despite the negative yards from those flags [penalties], we were able to make adjustments and keep the pressure on them.”
End of first half: Taos 14, Hope 7
With the sour taste of the “pick-six” that had just given Hope hope, the Tigers sorely needed their upperclassmen to settle the team down and get back to the business of moving the football.
The Tigers did just that by putting the ball in the hands of Garcia and Taos’ fullback, Brian Moraga. On the evening, Garcia had 197 rushing yards with an average of 6.8 yards per carry. Moraga added 26 yards on five carries.
Another rushing touchdown by Garcia would give the Tigers a 14-7 lead going into halftime.
End of third period: Hope 14, Taos 14
The third period proved to be more of a stalemate, as both teams struggled to penetrate each other’s defensive lines. The lone score came from a rushing touchdown by the Huskies after a sustained drive capped by an option play that resulted in Hope’s quarterback crossing the goal line untouched.
Seemingly content to play for field position, the Tigers minimized the risk of allowing a big play to be hatched by Hope and shifted their playcalling to a more conservative slant. Thus, Taos would experience its first stanza of the year without a score. Though the stalled Tiger offense was unable to show any points in the quarter and even though there were still many penalties, the net results of each of the team’s third-quarter drives were positive yards.
The stalemate continued into the fourth quarter, as both teams were unable to deliver the knockout blow with their respective offenses. Controlling the ball with yards on the ground, the Tigers forged a late-game attack that saw Taos creep into Hope Christian territory twice. Again, however, penalties stunted any momentum garnered by the Tigers, and they repeatedly found themselves back on their own side of the field.
Having to punt, the Tiger defense was summoned to hold the Huskies deep in their own territory. Then, with the Huskies facing a third down and long, Hope quarterback Vince Quezada rolled to his strong side and prepared to hoist a long pass to one of his receivers. Unaware of pressure from his blind side, Quezada was hit hard by Taos’ Aidan LeBlanc – jostling the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and into the turf.
Taos linebacker Estevan Valerio scooped up the orphaned football and scampered into the end zone for the tie-breaking touchdown. A blocked extra point made things interesting, as the Tigers found themselves up by a mere six points instead of seven. The final Hope drive threatened to tie the game or perhaps pass the Tigers with a touchdown and extra point kick. Taos’ defense would prevail, however, as long passes from Quezada to his receivers were broken up by the Tigers backfield team that included Enrique Gonzales, Justin Good, Mateo Sisneros, Garcia and Suazo.
After receiving the ball on downs, Taos just needed to run the clock out. After two handoffs to Garcia for small gains, the Huskies were anticipating another run on third down. A fake handoff and a quick pass to Santiago Cortez resulted in a long touchdown to cement the win for the Tigers.
The exciting finish was a redemption of sorts for the way the Tigers were defeated at home a year ago. In postgame remarks, Abreu was pleased with the maturity of his squad. “This team is like a brotherhood, and it showed tonight,” said Abreu. “The seniors really pulled together and made this happen.”
Game conditions saw plenty of sunshine and heat on the stadium turf. The setting sun proved to be a bit of an obstacle for teams facing it, but both teams were able to overcome the blinding light. On the day, Suazo played well – completing 12 of 22 passes for 222 yards. Angel Limas was 3 for 4 in extra point attempts and Cortez finished the day with 104 all-purpose yards.
Next for the Tigers is an away game versus New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell Sept. 8. Game time is 7 p.m.