Horsemen will lose valuable seniors, but will regain a talented group of underclassmen from a 9-4 season. By ARNIE LESHIN
It was not the way seniors Xavier Vigil and Patrick Dalton wanted to end their high school football careers. All looked well until both went down with knee injuries, first Vigil, than Dalton, in St. Michael’s state 4A quarterfinals victory at Moriarty.
Now, they were reduced to be wounded sideliners, joined by fellow senior Jocelyn Fernandez and sophomores Andrew Salazar, Luke Kastendieck and Adrian Balderamos, as the 6th seeded Horsemen played at 2nd seeded Portales in Saturday afternoon’s state semifinals.
All were key ingredients during a season in which St. Michael’s made it to the semis for the first time in four years. In head coach Joey Fernandez’ 14th season, it managed to go 9-4, losing to the best of the best in 4A, top-seeded Las Vegas Robertson, 3rd seeded Moriarty, and twice to Portales following the 38-0 defeat on the road.
The Horsemen were able to avenge the Moriarty loss, and if they wanted to line up again against the undefeated Cardinals, they had to do the same versus the Rams. At full strength, maybe there was a chance, but just a look at the sidelines, at those in street clothes, it was not to be.
So much talent unable to suit up. Early in the season, Kastenidieck tore his ACL and needed surgery on his knee. Around the same time, Balderamos suffered the same fate. Then it was Vigil and Dalton going down and out, while Jocelyn Fernandez, daughter of the head coach, suffered a concussion in the game versus the Pintos.
Yes, the surprise triumph over Moriarty was nice to have, but it proved to be costly. Vigil and Dalton were the team’s best defensive tacklers, and then some. Vigil also ran the ball out of the fullback slot, caught passes, sometimes threw the ball, played nose guard and outside linebacker. Dalton also played a big role as a sometimes running back, wide out, linebacker and safety.
Jocelyn Fernandez, playing high school varsity ball for the first time, did her part and proved that she belonged on the field with the boys. At Santa Fe Indian School, she converted 7-of-7 point-after conversions and finished up with just one miss, one that was blocked in the Robertson contest, and wound up by making good on 10-of-11 PATs. She also caught some passes and ran the ball.
Now, with this trio having to be sideline spectators, it was much too much to think of knocking off Portales. But the effort was there, the spirit was alive, but the Rams were just too good playing at their Greyhound Stadium. They went to work quickly, scoring twice in the first quarter on run-pass combinations, and added two more touchdowns in the second quarter to own a 28-0 halftime advantage.
The home team, which now stays home to take on Robertson Saturday afternoon in the final, also applied a stout defense, putting pressure on St. Michael’s starting quarterback, junior Antonio Gabaldon. He had a quality performance against Moriarty, but this time he couldn’t even come close to it. Sacks, hurries, interceptions, kept the Horsemen from mounting any offensive threats.
The bad is that St. Michael’s will graduate 14 seniors. The good is that it will return plenty of talent with Gabaldon, Joey Fernandez, Jr., Salazar, Baldermos, Kastenidicek, as well as junior Lincoln Barker, sophomore Alejandro Talamantes, junior Miguel Montoya, junior Jake Tetrault, and junior Angelo Baca.
The Gabaldon to Fernandez passing game had graduated to the best weapon the team had. In addition, Fernandez, the head coach’s son, was a bundle of versatility as a ball carrier, passer, and was also stellar on defense.
Salazar was the team’s primary kicker, Baldermos a starter along the offensive line, Kastenidicek a wide receiver and cornerback, Barker a two-way end, Baca a two-way back, Talamantes a tight end and cornerback, Montoya a running back, tight end and linebacker, and Tetrault a two-way tackle and place kicker.
They will be the nucleolus, the bright spots who will have to make the plays as Vigil, Dalton, Jocelyn Fernandez and two-way back Curtis Rogers did. It was a quality campaign that just ended, but who knows how much better it would have been minus the mash unit that brought numerous injuries, too many.