One general theme in recent years at the North-South Small-School football game has been the heavy presence of players from Escalante High School.
However, this year’s version of the North team was spritzed with some presence from McCurdy Charter School. The senior trio of defensive lineman Clyde Ortiz and Nikko Valdez and tight end Jacob Martinez were all selected for the North, as well as McCurdy head coach Ron Gallegos.
“It was awesome because we had a group of kids that don’t need a lot of coaching — they already know what they’re doing,” Gallegos said. “It wasn’t hard at all (to prepare the team). They knew what they had to do and they bonded quickly.”
Of the seven football classifications in the state, teams from the southern portion of New Mexico won four of those divisions, and players (13 total) from state champion teams from Animas, Tatum, Dexter and Eunice High Schools came together to form a tough, stout unit for the South.
“Trying to outdo those teams who were state champions, that was motivation in itself right there,” Gallegos said.
Behind two touchdown runs from Dexter’s Nicholas Cobos, the South would control the majority of the game to leave with a 19-3 victory on the eve of June 8 at Nusenda Community stadium on the west side of Albuquerque.
Cobos added his second touchdown of the game in the third quarter from 20 yards out, after he scampered for another 20-yard score in the first quarter to put the first points on the board.
The North struggled to move the ball consistently out of the wishbone offense, and their lone score came on a deep, 44-yard field goal in the third quarter by Hope Christian’s Josh Tarantino.
The drive, however, had looked much promising just moments earlier. After Ortiz recovered a fumble on defense on the South’s prior possession with 11:08 remaining in the quarter with his team still trailing 6-0, the North looked all but destined to score a touchdown to tie the game and possibly take the lead.
Tucumcari’s Seth Martinez broke open a toss play to the left side, running 26 yards to reach the 1-yard line to set up first-and-goal, but the North was flagged for holding on the play. The drive stalled and resulted in the long field goal to make the score 12-3. The South scored its final touchdown of the game with 10 seconds remaining to pad the score when Fort Sumner/House High School's Benjamin Segura II found Dexter's Sergio Ramirez on a play-action 7-yard touchdown pass.
“Their defense was just solid,” Gallegos said. “They stuck to their game plan, and on offense, they had an all-state quarterback that was hard to stop.”
Aside from his fumble recovery in the third quarter, Ortiz started the game on the interior defensive line, and also picked up a sack on the North’s first defensive possession to force the South into a punting situation. Valdez also made his presence felt by adding a sack to his name in the second quarter.
“They all had a great game and I can’t pick one over the other,” Gallegos said about the three McCurdy players. “Jacob was doing his part on offense and so was Nikko and Clyde on defense. Clyde, he’s always been tough, shoot (it wasn’t a surprise).”
A year ago, Escalante had seven players selected to the North roster after a state championship game appearance season in 2017, and there were four players called upon for this year’s game in Randy Ferrell, A.J. Blea, NMHSCA Second-Team All-State cornerback Esteban Archuleta and NMHSCA First-Team All-State running back Anthony Ulibarri.
Gallegos said it was an honor to be selected by the other Northern New Mexico Coaches after his 26 years of coaching experience.
“There’s coaches that coach 30 or 40 years and never get this chance,” he said. “I feel fortunate and I feel blessed the northern coaches picked me out of everyone.”