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Key District Test for St. Michael’s in Football

Key district test for St. Michael’s at Taos tonight, Santa Fe High home to Roswell as they meet for the first time, Santa Fe Indian School heads for West Las Vegas, and Capital High has a bye

Horsemen are 3-0 over Tigers, but home field advantage could decide this one in the 7-school 2-4A clash

Arnie Leshin

By ARNIE LESHIN,  Santa Fe Today

St. Michael’s heads for Taos, Santa Fe High stays home, Santa Fe Indian School is in danger of a third-straight setback, and Capital High has a bye weekend.

The action is tonight. The Horsemen (4-1) have won three in a row over Taos in District 2-4A, and the Tigers (5-1) come off a 33-20 loss at Las Vegas Robertson. That equals a fired-up Taos team putting together its best record since going 10-2 in 2013. In fact, the program has had only three winning seasons in the last 13 years.

But head coach Art Abrau, Jr., has the Tigers on a roll even though they have lost the only times they have played St. Michael’s, 32-14, 42-17, 20-6. His assistant is his dad, Art Abrau, Sr., and they both experienced winning programs in their years at Robertson.

“I guess it’s time we beat them (St. Michael’s), said Abrau, Jr., “but it’s easy to say, you know, talk the talk, walk the walk, but we’re pumped up, it’s an important district game, and St. Michael’s is a tough opponent.”

In the district, Taos is 1-1, the Horsemen 1-0. (Unbeaten Robertson is 2-0).

At home, the Tigers are 2-0. On the road, they are 3-1, so they probably have an advantage playing on their home field.

Coming off a bye week, St. Michael’s last shut out visiting Bernalillo. The week before, it unveiled its ground game to upset Portales at home, 21-20. Before this, it had relied heavily on the air attack that had senior quarterback Antonio Gabalon getting the ball to senior Joey Fernandez, Jr., son the head coach.

But in the last two contests, Fernandez has been part of the run game with senior Miguel Montoya and sophomore Derek Roybal, and it has been successful. Blocking for them has also been a plus. The status of 6-1, 185 senior Lincoln Barker is unknown. He has been sidelined with an elbow injury suffered early in the season, and goes at tight end and defensive end.

“We couldn’t keep relying on putting the ball in the air,” said Fernandez, Sr., “so we practiced running the ball before the Portales game, and it’s worked. But we know we can mix it up.”

Taos’ strength on offense belongs to senior Jude Suazo through the air and junior Jonathan Garcia on the ground. Suazo, who is also adept at running the option, has connected on 40 of 66 throws for 821 yards and 11 touchdowns. Garcia has scored 13 times and has carried 100 times for 787 yards.

The Tigers have put up 268 points, the most in 4A. They have allowed 89.

Except for Robertson, their schedule hasn’t been that strong, with wins over Hatch Valley, Albuquerque Hope Christian, NMMI, Santa Fe High, and Indian School. The Horsemen’s lone loss was at Moriarty.

Roswell is a stranger to Santa Fe High on the football field. It’s the first time they have played, with the 5A Coyotes 3-2 with the two losses on the road.

They have been up and down, winning over Gadsden, 41-6 at home, losing 42-15 at Hobbs, turning back Los Lunas, 29-7, at home, losing at Belen, 29-7, and taking a home win over Lovington, 44-16, last week.

They rely mostly on the running game led by 5-foot-10, 187 senior Gabriel Najar. He has carried the ball 115 times and has racked up 628 yards and has scored nine touchdowns.

Through the air, they have employed three quarterbacks who have combined for 363 yards, Junior Ethan Valenzuela has been the most effective with 153 yards on 13-for-20 throws. Senior Michael Ponse has tossed a pair of TD passes and has totaled 186 yards.

The defense is powered by the likes of 6-1, 175 junior Dylan Tucker, 5-10, 140 junior Jasia Reese, 5-9, 160 senior Brandon Perez, and 5-11, 180 junior Cade Manzanares. Tucker has 14 solos tackles and Perez has 21 assisted, one more than Reese and two more than Manzanares. It is a half-game behind Artesia in a District 4-5A that also includes Roswell Goddard and Lovington.

For Santa Fe High and new head coach Andrew Martinez, this is the first of three-straight home games as the independent schedule winds down for a program that has lost 29 in a row, the last win coming in 2014 at Los Alamos.

At the Hilltoppers last week, the Demons played until the final whistle in a tough 21-14 defeat.

They switched quarterbacks in installing 6-3, 180 senior Zach Russell and placing senior Levi Lopez at running back and defensive end. Russell was sacked five times, but did move the team by passing and by running the ball. One problem was that his receivers bobbled too many throws, while turnovers also hampered the team.

But it was anyone’s game to win. Santa Fe High had the ball last, but after Russell moved the team into Los Alamos territory, he was sacked on fourth down and the Hilltoppers kneed twice.

Now it faces a new foe, with again a chance to finally reach the win column. Thus far, it has been hurt by penalties, turnovers and mistakes. Several times the Demons have had a drive stopped by hurting themselves. But 5-7, 125 senior Isaiah Fordham has run the ball well, and 5-8, 145 senior Marcus Acuna has showed his versatility by rushing and catching passes.

After this, they will face undefeated 2A Escalante (6-0), a small school that plays big, and a team that the big schools don’t want to schedule. The finale brings in 6A opponent Clovis, which is 4-1 overall and has only a two-overtime setback to Rio Rancho High.

Indian School got away to a 4-0 start but was then routed by Taos at home and losing 8-6 at Pojoaque Valley. West Las Vegas is 3-2 overall and 1-0 in district. It is 1-1 at home as the Braves come to visit. Last season at Indian School, the Dons rolled up a 59-6 rout.

The three WLV victories have been shutouts over Grants, Albuquerque Academy and Pojoaque. The losses have been to Moriarty and Portales.

It looks to be another setback for Indian School.

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