Football coaches love nothing more than to see the week’s preparation in practice translate to game day.
For the Pojoaque Valley High School football team, the focus in practice leading up to their week 2 home matchup against Santa Fe Indian School was on wrapping up and finishing tackles.
The Elks (1-1) missed more than a handful of tackles in their week 1 30-27 home loss against Shiprock High School, so head coach Pat Mares and his staff put a heavy emphasis on the tackling dummies before taking the field against the Braves.
The tactic proved to be successful, as Pojoaque’s defense pitched a first-half shutout and held Santa Fe Indian School to just two touchdowns, and Pojoaque escaped with a 21-14 win on Aug. 30 at Jacona Field.
“They were so frustrated with us on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” Mares said about the practice schedule leading up to the game. “We finally got into some offense and defense on Thursday, but Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we watched film and we did tackling drills all practice long. It showed tonight because we only had a handful of missed tackles; we did so much better.”
No question, the Elks could not have been victorious if weren’t for their tenacious defensive effort, but it was the offense who was put to the test on its final drive of the game to avoid heading to overtime.
Pojoaque took a 14-0 lead into halftime, but Indian School (0-2) facilitated fourth quarter touchdown drives of 53 and 61 yards, with the latter coming with 5:43 remaining in the game when the Braves’ Taylor Torivio scored on a 3-yard touchdown run.
The PAT tied the score at 14, setting the stage for Pojoaque quarterback Devonn Leyba-Holmes to lead the offense for a potential game-winning score.
“When they scored and it was tied 14-14, I told Devonn, ‘Hey, we need an all-district player to step up right now,’” Mares said. “I told him I didn’t care how we do it or who does it because we have plenty of talent on the team, let’s find that all-district player.”
Holmes battled through two first-half interceptions, hard hits and countless razzle-dazzle maneuvers to escape the pocket through a majority of the game, so all he needed was one opportunity and one clean pocket to make up for the early misfortunes.
He received that opportunity, as he capped of Pojoaque’s next drive to answer the Indian School’s game-tying touchdown with a 31-yard touchdown pass to D’sean Martinez on 3rd-and-9 with 2:35 remaining.
Leyba-Holmes had his cleanest pocket of the game on the touchdown pass, which ended the 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive, which was aided by two huge catches by Anthony Meloy-Chavez to continue to move the chains.
“I knew the coaches told me at first I need to stay in the pocket, but it was tough at times,” Leyba-Holmes said. “I told the line as long they block; I trust them and I know what they can do. Sure enough, on that play they saw the blitz coming, they picked it up and I knew I could stay in there even longer and deliver the pass.”
Martinez battled all night against Indian School defensive back Debrylan Candelario, and he knew he had a speed and size advantage in the matchup.
“I kept telling them to get it to me and that I could beat this guy to score the touchdown,” Martinez said. “Me and Devonn can click like that, and our line, I have to give them props. We couldn’t have done nothing this whole game without our line.”
The Braves had one last gasp and started with excellent field position at their own 43-yard line, but they were unable to move the sticks after wide receiver Fenyx Morningdove dropped a pass right in his hands on 4th-and-6.
Pojoaque ended the game in victory formation to escape with their first win of the season and end Indian School’s comeback bid.
“We started off strong and when we went into halftime and came back out, we weren’t really playing that great,” Martinez said. “We had to work hard in that last quarter and Devonn worked hard to get me the ball when we needed to. It was a team effort and not just one of us.”
Pojoaque will hit the road for the first time this season after a two-game homestand when they travel to face the Hilltoppers of Los Alamos High School at 7 p.m., Friday at Sullivan Field. Los Alamos (1-1) will look to rebound after losing 44-27 to Taos High School in week 2.