Española defense shuts out Pojoaque in second half en route to 52-14 win
A chance at redemption was something that kept lingering inside the mind of Chris Salazar.
It was just the motivation the senior wingback/linebacker needed to layout a picture-perfect lasting image of his career while playing football at Española Valley High School.
Before his big moment arrived in the fourth quarter of the Sundevils’ season and home finale on Nov. 1 against District 2-4A rival Pojoaque Valley High School, Salazar let a sure touchdown reception slip through his hands in the endzone in the third quarter.
The play was one of two drops from Sundevil pass catchers on the opening drive of the second half as Española led 22-14.
The score remained the same after the third quarter closed, and after Pojoaque found itself with its back against the wall trailing by 16 points in the fourth, Salazar made sure to put the game away for good.
With 8 minutes, 23 seconds remaining in the game, Salazar made a perfect break on a pass thrown by Elks’ quarterback Devonn Leyba-Holmes in the flat, intercepting the ball and scurrying 49 yards for a touchdown the other way untouched.
The score ignited the Española bench and increased their lead to 38-14 after a successful 2-point conversion; burying Pojoaque for good. The Sundevils (2-8, 1-4) would wind up winning by the final margin of 52-14.
“We played our defense exactly how we were supposed to and I covered out to the flats exactly how I was supposed to on that pick-six,” Salazar said. “That really helped increase our lead and it encouraged us; it made us play harder and want to finish it out.”
Salazar admitted after dropping the touchdown pass earlier in the game, he was hungry to make up for his misfortune.
“Oh yeah, I was still thinking about it,” he said. “It really did give me encouragement though, and when I had that next opportunity, I knew I had to catch this ball.”
Española head coach Delfin Quintana said Salazar played the ball just the way him and the coaching staff teach, and it was just one moment that helped characterize the way Española played defense in the second half.
The Sundevils held the Elks (2-8, 0-5) scoreless over the final 24 minutes, and there was no bigger stop than during Pojoaque’s second and final possession of the third quarter.
Still trailing 22-14, the Elks navigated the ball from their own 30-yard line all the way to the Española 1, and when faced with a 4th-and-goal, the Sundevil defensive line surged through its opposition to stuff Pojoaque running back Deymian Waters short of the goal line to force a turnover-on-downs.
“That’s what broke their back,” Quintana said. “We played great defense in the second half.”
Even if it didn’t and the goal line stand just made Pojoaque bend, it was the Sundevils’ response on offense that certainly was the back-breaker. Española, fueled by momentum, marched the ball 99 yards on the next drive, which ended in a 69-yard touchdown scamper from quarterback Ollie Fell with 10:27 remaining.
The play was designed as a sweep to the right side of the field, but a majority of the damage on the play made by the sophomore signal caller was after he cut back against the grain and broke open the run to the left side.
Fell would add another rushing score from 36 yards out on Española’s final drive with 2:28 remaining in the game. He also connected on a 40-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Matthias Garcia with 3 seconds left in the first half.
“The game plan coming in was really to run it, make them bite up and then hit em’ deep on the pass,” Quintana said. “It worked, and we probably could have passed more because it was open all day, but we did have some drops there (in the second and third quarter).They adjusted their defense to the outside and deep to try and stop it, so that’s when we decided to pound it.”
Salazar, Martin Martinez, Faveon Martinez and Luis Cuevas shared the rock from the backfield, giving Española a balanced rushing attack for the game. To add to his pick-six, Salazar also scored on a 14-yard run on the opening drive of the game, and Cuevas added an 11-yard score in the fourth quarter.
Defensively for Española, Carlos Garcia was active in the secondary, as the junior nearly had three to four interceptions to his name. He was targeted often and would wind up with two total. Garcia looked to have run his second back 90-plus yards for a touchdown, but the score was negated for an illegal block on the return.
The Elks’ offense featured plenty of trickery on the night, most often on halfback passes from the arm of Leyba-Holmes. The gadget plays had little success, although a majority of that was due to dropped balls by the receivers.
Pojoaque freshman quarterback Adam Pacheco was responsible for both of the Elks’ touchdowns on the night. He connected with D’sean Martinez on a 4-yard strike on the opening drive of the game, and also found Leyba-Holmes open deep in the secondary for a 46-yard score early in the second quarter.
With the victory, the Española senior class improved to 4-0 against Pojoaque.
“It feels great because all these years, we’ve always beat them,” Salazar said with a smile. “One way or the other, so this feels amazing right now.”