Escalante Football Reloaded & Ready

by Staff Reporter / Aug 20, 2017 / comments
Escalante quarterback Esteban Archuleta hands off to running back Anthony Ulibarri during practice. Photos by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Escalante Football Reloaded & Ready

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

After back-to-back Class 2A state football championships, the Escalante High School football team had their 2016 season end sooner than they wanted when Lordsburg High School defeated the Lobos 45-22 on the red turf of Escalante’s home field in the Class 2A state football playoffs semifinals.

“That loss made us realize we could be beaten,” senior wide receiver Anthony Paul Martinez said. “Everyone is working together. We have that drive to win.”

​Escalante wide receiver Anthony Paul Martinez catches a pass from quarterback Esteban Archuleta. Photos by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Martinez typifies the type of player that Escalante has succeeded with. At 5 feet, 2 inches, 126 pounds, bigger schools and players might not be impressed. It’s a mistake that several teams made last season, during which the Lobos shocked several much-larger schools from higher classes. Class 5A Espanola Valley High School (8-0) and Class 4A Pojoaque Valley High School (38-14) found out the hard way

“We’ve got a pretty physical Lobo team,” Escalante Coach Dusty Giles said. “Five-foot-five, 130 pounds and not afraid to stick our nose in it.”

​Escalante Coach Dusty Giles talks to his team after practice. Photos by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Giles does not hesitate to put his smaller players up against much bigger opponents. He will line up running backs and even players like Martinez at defensive tackle where he believes their quickness is an advantage.

“I like to put little quick guys there,” Coach Giles said. “There’s not too many 300-pound guys with college-type quickness. You can really get the edge on them by being quicker.”

Another player who personifies the Lobos is senior Ryan Allison. At 5 feet, 5 inches and 148 pounds, he’s the starting left tackle on the offensive line.

“That kid’s as tough as nails,” Coach Giles said. “He’s our middle linebacker on defense.”

Allison has found a home in the offensive line despite the tendency for people to focus on the players who score touchdowns. The linemen protect those players on passing plays and open holes for them on running plays. He knows his coach appreciates the effort.

“I like it,” Allison said. “Coach Giles gives us a lot of credit.”

The Lobos have been running the same spread option offense since 2012, when Escalante won its first state football championship in then-Class A. It features a quarterback and one running back and leans heavily towards the ground game. Both of last year’s quarterbacks, Tristan Martinez and Waylon Hinds (who took over after an injury to Tristan Martinez) have graduated. Together they rushed for 1,051 yards last season. Running back Diego Aguilar rushed for 747 yards and also graduated. Escalante, which has a tendency to reload rather than rebuild, has found capable replacements.

Junior Esteban Archuleta will take over at quarterback. A typical product of the rural lifestyle that characterizes Escalante athletes, Archuleta raised a grand champion steer during the summer while working out with his receivers when he had the time. He took a few snaps from center last season in some of Escalante’s blowout victories.

Giles places a lot of confidence in his quarterback, allowing him to change plays on the field. The option offense allows the quarterback to either hand off to the running back or keep the ball himself.

“I need to know everything that’s going on,” Archuleta said. “Doing my job. Making sure we run the right play and checking off if it’s bad. You don’t want any wasted plays.”

​Escalante Coach Dusty Giles gives quarterback Esteban Archuleta instructions during practice. Photos by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Junior Anthony Ulibarri will take over at running back. At 5 feet, 6 inches and 162 pounds, he can pick up the tough yards inside. He also has the speed to beat defenders to the corner. When he got to carry the ball as Aguilar’s backup last season, Ulibarri averaged over 10 yards-per-carry.

“He (Ulibarri) can do it all,” Archuleta said. “Run tough in the trenches, bounce it outside. He can do it.”

Although the Lobos offense leans heavily toward the running attack, Escalante’s passing attack often results in big plays because the defense starts to key on the run. Anthony Paul Martinez is the top returning receiver with 14 catches. Seven of those receptions resulted in touchdowns and Martinez averaged 26.3 yard-per reception. He and Ulibarri have been working on making the connection between quarterback and receiver.

“The whole summer we’ve been out here doing routes together,” Martinez said.

Last season, Escalante completed just 25 passes, but 13 of them resulted in touchdowns and Escalante averaged 22.9 yards-per-completion. Senior Cody Russom and junior A. J. Blea also return at wide receiver.

On the line, Allison has locked up left tackle. Junior Randy Ferrell is at center. Senior Johnny Samora, last year’s starter, is a right guard. Escalante has been rotating players at left guard and right tackle.

“We have a lot of seniors (11) this year,” Coach Giles said. “They’re catching on pretty quick.”

Last year, Escalante’s defense intercepted 13 passes and returned three of them for touchdowns. The Lobos recovered 17 fumbles and scored twice on fumble recoveries.

“We run a basic 4-3 defense,” Coach Giles said. “We can move into a 5-3 and an eight-man, really a 9-man front, depending on the situation.”

The Lobos were able to schedule bigger schools last season and more than held their own. They defeated three Class 3A schools, two Class 4A schools and one Class 5A school during the season.

“It’s cool playing and beating those schools,” Allison said.

This season, the Lobos will play Class 5A Espanola Valley, Class 4A Pojoaque and Albuquerque Academy, Class 3A Tucumcari High School, Dulce High School and McCurdy Charter School. Jal, Fort Sumner and Questa High School will be their Class 2A opponents.

Since returning to Escalante in2011, Giles’ teams have won three state championships and consistenly been ranked at or near the top in their class. Oddly, Escalante is ranked just fifth in the state in Class 2A in the preseason polls behind defending champion Lordsburg, Fort Sumner High School, Jal High School and Hagerman High School. Despite the lack of respect, Giles has confidence in his team.

Í’m pretty upbeat that we’ll be able to compete really well,” Coach Giles said. “We have the potential to be one of the best teams standing at the end.”