Judging just by the pregame top line, McCurdy’s football game against Santa Fe Indian School should not have been close.
The Braves come from a higher classification, and started the year at 3-1 compared to 1-2 for the Bobcats. Santa Fe Indian School has seen, if not major success in recent years, certainly more than McCurdy, who has won just two games since 2017.
“This was a hard-fought battle with a bigger school, and they fought all the way down to the very end,” said McCurdy coach Robert Nevarez. “There was no quit.”
But the two teams were very evenly matched in both speed and physicality, and a few different bounces could easily have swung the game in either direction. In the end, however, it was the Braves who came out on top, 40-34,
“It was a hard-fought battle, we gave it our all,” said sophomore Josh Serrano, who scored the game’s first two touchdowns. “Sadly, we lost just barely. We all gave it our best, that’s all we can ask.”
Nevarez called the game a “confidence builder” as they head into district competition.
Consistently, the Bobcats struggled to stop Santa Fe Indian’s Fenyx Morningdove, a state track champion last year at Bernalillo. Morningdove scored three touchdowns and blew up countless plays defensively. McCurdy began intentionally kicking the ball out of bounds rather than give Morningdove a chance to return.
Throughout the game, McCurdy ran a “single wing” offense, and five different backs took carries consistently, adding confusion with multiple players lined up to potentially receive the snap. McCurdy ran 47 times compared to just five pass attempts. And Nevarez said he was impressed with the offensive line, who all before this year had not played since middle school.
McCurdy was fairly dominant in the opening minutes. They forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage, and even though they did not recover it, the loss of yards led to an early punt.
On their own first drive, they ran down the field in nine plays all the way down to the 10-yard line, and might have scored but Casey Nevarez lost a fumble and gave the ball away, a missed opportunity that would haunt them.
But from there, it did not take long for the Bobcats to strike. Soon into the ensuing Braves drive, Serrano intercepted a pass and found daylight along the left side, running 24 yards for a touchdown. Jolen Montoya ran in a two-point conversion and it was quickly 8-0 McCurdy.
“It felt amazing,” Serrano said. “I had never scored a touchdown. The team helped, the team scored those touchdowns, so thank you to them.”
Robert Nevarez praised Serrano and Ryan Montoya as defensive backs, saying that McCurdy has not yet been beaten by any passing offenses.
Then, on the kickoff, Marcos Gasca kicked to a medium distance but the Braves failed to jump on the ball, and Casey Nevarez recovered what would be an onside kick. A good run from Jolen Montoya put the Bobcats in the redzone, and Gasca threw to a wide-open Serrano for the latter’s second score, and suddenly it was 14-0 before the end of the first quarter.
But then McCurdy struggled against the talented Morningdove, who scored on a touchdown run and on the next drive brought back a punt return for a long touchdown to tie the game. Gasca lost a fumble after a good run, and Morningdove then caught a 65-yard touchdown pass.
In one timeout, a frustrated Robert Nevarez emphasized that he needed to see more effort and physical play from the team.
“Young teams tend to bend a little, and if you’re not careful, they’ll break,” he said.
Before the end of the half, though, Casey Nevarez struck back for the Bobcats with a 51-yard touchdown run, breaking through the line and going right up the middle, then taking a tumble on the track past the end zone.
Serrano said just before halftime, he felt the game shift into a hard and physical battle.
And to start the second half, down 22-20, Jolen Montoya picked up a loose kickoff, fought through tackles and found a hole on the left side for a 75-yard touchdown return, giving McCurdy back the lead.
Both teams traded touchdowns, with Casey Nevarez running in from 80 yards up the middle, fighting off would-be tacklers just past the line of scrimmage and going untouched for the last 65 or so yards. But after an interception, McCurdy’s next drive stalled at midfield, and a bad punt followed by a huge run from Morningdove led to a touchdown soon after that. Chris Martinez made a great stop on the 2-point conversion to keep the game tied at 34.
With the game tied in the fourth quarter, McCurdy lost a turnover on downs, and the Braves ran straight through their heart for another touchdown after draining the clock to take the lead at 40-34. McCurdy, on a poorly executed trick play, fumbled on the first play with under 3 minutes remaining. But, remarkably, they got it right back with a chance to drive.
But in four plays, the Bobcats advanced just three yards, and a pass to Serrano fell incomplete, ending McCurdy’s hopes at an upset.
“They’re a good team, no doubt about it,” Serrano said of the Braves. “They deserved that win.”
Casey Nevarez, battling ankle injuries throughout the game, was the team leader with 143 yards on 12 rushes for two touchdown. He was visibly limping on the sidelines, but seemingly always stepped up when his number was called. Gasca ran 16 times for just 60 yards, part of the team total of 280 yards on the ground, and was 1-for-3 in the air with the lone 7-yard touchdown pass.
The McCurdy coach said he knows when Casey, his son, needs a push and when he needs to push himself, whereas other players on the team need to build confidence in themselves early.
The Bobcats enter district play this week, looking to start strong against their most important opponents. Their Friday game at Estancia (1-4) will be a challenge, and the Bobcats will have to come out strong to get an important win.
“We’re going to fight, we’re going to battle,” Robert Nevarez said. “In my mind, everything we want to accomplish is still in front of us.”