Espanola quarterback Makaio Frazier hands off to Arlen Garcia against Santa Fe High School. The Sundevils lost 22-20 on the last playof the game Sept. 7 at Espanola.
By George Morse Sports and Outdoors
Sundevils Lose on Last Play of the Game
As the final seconds of the game ran off the scoreboard, the tension mounted and the excitement grew for the Espanola Valley High School football team. Leading 22-20 Sept. 7 against the Santa Fe High School Demons at Espanola, the Sundevils watched as the time hit 0:00 and players started to rush the field to celebrate what looked like a victory.
Hold your horses.
As the officials sought to restore order and players waited in the confusion, Santa Fe was given one more play with no time left on the clock. The Demons lined up to try a 30-yard field goal that would win the game. The snap was good. The hold was good. Santa Fe’s kicker, Tilman Conway, drilled the ball through uprights. That set off a wild celebration that has been a long-time coming. The victory over the Sundevils ended a 35-game losing streak by Santa Fe. For the first time since 2014, the Demons tasted the thrill of victory.
While the Demons celebrated, the Sundevils were in shock. Some expressed anger, others had tears in their eyes, Some cursed into the night air. Just minutes before, Espanola had thought it had won the game. Espanola Coach Miguel Medina struggled to find the words. It was a heart-breaking loss, but one he didn’t want to break the heart his team had shown during the game.
“Do not hang your heads on this loss,” Coach Medina said to the team after the game. “You played your hearts out and won that game. They had to take it from us. Tonight you gave that effort. I knew it was in you guys all along.”
The game was hard fought. Espanola appeared to have an early advantage after a fumble recovery by the Sundevils at midfield, but the drive stalled in Santa Fe territory. The first quarter ended in a scoreless tie as the two offenses struggled to find a rhythm as penalties and plays that lost yardage stymied any attempts at a sustained drive.
Santa Fe finally managed to put points on the board. A five-yard penalty for 12 men on the field gave Santa Fe a first-and-goal on the seven-yard line. After a four-yard loss on second down, Santa Fe quarterback Lucas Jaramillo found wide receiver Jeremy Martinez open in the right-front corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Conway booted the extra point and Santa Fe led 7-0 at 6:31 of the second quarter.
Espanola came storming back. From their 34-yard line, the Sundevils used a 15-yard penalty on the Demons to march 66 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback Makaio Frazier scored on a 17-yard run. Arlen Garcia ran for the two-point conversion that gave the Sundevils an 8-7 lead with 3:57 left in the first half.
Espanola's Arlen Garcia runs for a two-point conversion togive the Sundevils a 8-7 lead.
Having had a taste of what it was like to lead in a game, Santa Fe answered with a 10-play drive covering 65 yards. Running back Sammy Martinez scored the touchdown on a four-yard run. Conway booted another extra point, giving the Demons a 14-8 lead with 47.1 seconds left until halftime. That’s where the score remained going into the second half.
The third quarter was dominated by Santa Fe. Poor field position and a grinding ground game by the Demons allowed Santa Fe to have a big advantage in time of possession. Near the end of the third quarter, Santa Fe took over on downs at Espanola’s 45-yard line following a sack of Frazier. After a five-yard penalty on Espanola, Sammy Martinez was able to break free and rumble down the sideline for a 39-yard touchdown run. That gave the Demons a 20-8 lead with 1:44 left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, it looked like the Espanola offense would be stymied again after a block-in-the-back penalty cost the Sundevils 15 yards and moved the ball back to Espanola’s 33-yardline. Frazier dropped back to pass and launched a deep pass downfield. Freshman receiver Ollie Fell had gotten behind his defender and caught the ball in stride for a 49-yard gain. From there, the Sundevils drove down to the one-yard line. Frazier scored on a keeper. That made the score 20-14 with 6:53 left in the game.
Espanola's Gabriel Quintana drives toward the goal line against Santa Fe High School.
A 10-yard penalty on Santa Fe kept the Demons from doing much on their next possession. A punt by Santa Fe was downed at Espanola’s 13-yard line.
Frazier passed to Tanner Law for a 21-yard gain. The next time Frazier dropped back to pass, he delivered a bomb downfield to Fell. Once again, Fell had beaten his defender. This time, there was no catching him and he scored on a 66-yard catch-and-run. That tied the score at 20-20 with 3:46 left in the game.
“We saw the safety creeping up,” Frazier said. “We decided to go with a play-action pass. It was the same play-33 belly pass.”
Frazier powered his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion that gave Espanola a 22-20 lead.
Santa Fe was unable to move the ball on its next possession. The Sundevils got the ball back with two minutes left in the game and a chance to run out the clock. Santa Fe had two timeouts left.
Three running plays netted six yards and after Santa Fe called its last timeout, Coach Medina made the decision to go for a first down rather than punt. The questionable decision was compounded by the next play, when Espanola called a pass play. The ball fell incomplete and stopped the clock.
With 57.4 seconds left in the game, Santa Fe took over at Espanola’s 46-yard line. Quarterback Jaramillo completed a pass to Jeremy Martinez for a 26-yard gain down to the 20-yardline. After an incomplete pass, Jaramillo scrambled around the backfield before taking off downfield. He was tackled inbounds at the eight-yard line. With the clock running, Santa Fe scrambled to set up for one last play. The clock ran out before they could, leading Espanola to believe they had won the game.
In high school football, the clock is supposed to stop after a first down to allow the officials time to move the chains and yard marker and reset the ball. The clock had kept running.
There was also a penalty for illegal procedure against Santa Fe, leading Espanola to believe there should be a 10-second runoff. The 10-second runoff rule does not apply to every penalty and was initiated to prevent teams from deliberately committing a penalty to extend the game. Officials ruled that Santa Fe would get one more play. An untimed-down (ready down) that would begin as soon as the referees spotted the ball and blew the whistle. This would happen even if Espanola accepted the penalty. Medina was still confused at the call.
“”I was like ‘what do you mean a ready call,’” Medina said. “What does that mean. I don’t even understand that. He (the official) told me it means they basically get to snap the ball even when the clock runs out.”
That’s when Conway, despite the pressure, came in and coolly converted the game-winning field goal.
I thought about what my coach told me,” he said. “He told me to think about three things you’re grateful for. I thought of my family, football and my girlfriend. Play football, do your job. I was crying before it went in (through the uprights) because I knew it was good.”
Despite the loss, the Sundevils have found a leader and warrior in Frazier. It was not sure if he would even play against Santa Fe after injuring his Achilles tendon in Espanola’s loss Aug. 31 to Hope Christian High School. Despite obviously favoring the injured ankle, Frazier played the entire game against Santa Fe.
“He hardly practiced all week,” Coach Medina said. “He showed his toughness and leadership.”
Frazier was modest about his heroic performance.
“That’s just what you do,” he said. “It’s football. It’s just pain. What are you going to do.”
It looks like Frazier has found a favorite target and big-play receiver in Fell.
“He’s now a part of our arsenal,” Coach Medina said.
Espanola is still looking for its first win of the season. The Sundevils travel to Gallup High School Friday to take on the Bengals. Gallup is coming off a 46-0 win over Window Rock High School in Arizona. The Bengals are 1-2 on the season.