Family issues and illnesses forced Sundevil Luis Cuevas out of his junior football season.
But for his senior year at Española Valley High School, Cuevas not only came back to the team, but took the responsibility to recruit as many classmates as possible.
“I just told everybody, ‘Come on, it’s our last year,’” Cuevas said. “I feel like we can built this to be such a great team.”
Cuevas was the leading performer in an Española loss Aug. 2, 56-8. The senior ran for 120 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown, the lone Sundevil score. The Sundevils fall to 0-3 after scheduling very tough opponents to start the year, with Socorro possibly the state’s top 3A team.
Both teams had to adjust to a game that was moved from Friday to Thursday on short notice due to a regional shortage in referees.
“We basically had two-and-a-half days of practice,” said Española coach Santiago Archuleta. “That was hard playing against a good team, because we weren’t ready.”
The Sundevils started with the ball, and quickly punted on the first drive. But Socorro fumbled at midfield on their first drive, giving the Sundevils a chance of their own. But they could not advance the ball.
Socorro fumbled again on their second drive, giving Española a good chance on offense. But after one first down, they failed to convert a fourth-and-one, turning the ball over on downs. Soon after, Socorro scored their first touchdown on a 62-yard touchdown run.
From there, it was smooth sailing for the Warriors. They scored on five straight drives. Meanwhile, Española’s first half drives went: punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt, fumble, punt, end of half. At halftime, they trailed 34-0.
“They showed heart in the second half by not giving up,” Archuleta said. “We have a lot of people out, a lot of injuries.”
He said eight upperclassmen were ruled academically ineligible.
The Sundevil offense struggled immensely in the first half. They ran the ball a total of 17 times for 45 yards. In sum, they gained 80 yards on 27 plays - less than three yards per play.
And the second half started the same way, with Socorro running in for a touchdown in less than a minute. An interception started Española’s second half, and soon it was 48-0.
On their next drive, though, things finally started to look up for the Sundevils. Jack Purdy picked up 12 yards on the first play, and then senior Luis Cuevas found the whole and ran 71 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, giving Española their first points since week 1.
“It’s amazing, I couldn’t do it without my team,” Cuevas said. “I love my linemen, I love everybody that blocks for me. It’s amazing to feel the team come together and get a score.”
With the running clock, Española tried to chip away at the lead. A Garrett May interception was nullified due to a roughing the passer penalty. But in the fourth quarter, a long Socorro drive went all the way to the 1-yard line, but on two straight plays the Sundevil defensive line got a win, stopping runs short of the goal line and forcing a turnover on downs in the final minute.
The Sundevils narrowly avoided the mercy-rule loss at 56-8.
Archuleta said the Sundevils struggled to keep up with Socorro’s speed, especially early in the game and with most of the team’s linebackers new to the position. That was evident when the Warriors were easily able to break through the defense consistently, and the Sundevils seemed to have no answers in run defense.
“We switched up the defense, with all those losses we had the past two weeks,” he said. “We’re still trying to fill those positions. In the second half we made some adjustments. I think we put some people where we like them, now we just need (to give) them time to ripen.”
Española was without receiver Ollie Fell, who scored five touchdowns in the first game. Fell hurt his ankle playing basketball and was unable to play. He dressed in uniform pants at one point in the second quarter, but did not get medical clearance to play and so could not enter the game. Archuleta said Fell will be able to play next week, and he is excited about the combination of Fell and May as big-bodied receivers to give Chacon more confidence.
Cuevas said he hopes to get recruited to play in college, and that he wants to run for as many yards as possible.
“We have a lot of people that are going both ways, and some people don’t get off the field,” he said. “It’s hard for this community. But we’re coming and out and we’re trying. We’re doing our best.”
Chacon in total threw 6-for-13 for 73 yards and two interceptions.
Española next faces another tough opponent in West Las Vegas, who are 3-0 this year and will be a big challenge on the road.
Archuleta said he expects the early-season games to be tougher than the district games, and with both Taos and Moriarty losing this week, that seems to be true.