As the air got cold, the Bobcats’ defense turned solid.
The Ignacio High School football team stopped Center’s three final drives to preserve a five-point lead and pick up its first varsity win of the season 18-13 over the Vikings on a frigid Friday night at IHS.
“They buckled down and got some key defensive stops,” IHS head coach Lupe Huerta said.
None more so than on the Vikings’ final drive.
After a turnover on downs on the Vikings’ 24-yard line, Center went back to what the Vikings knew: Give running back Gustavo Nungaray the ball, and watch him rumble down the field.
And with less than a touchdown separating the two squads, fewer than five minutes to play and 224 yards already on Nungaray’s ground-game stat line, the Vikings didn’t need much rumbling. Nungaray finished with 255 yards.
Behind him and fullback Jeremiah Moreno, the Vikings drove to the Bobcats’ 37. Then Ignacio went cold.
“You got to know that you make sure this is the last drive,” defensive lineman Blaine Mickey said. “You’ve got to stop them this time.
“If not, it’s over.”
The Bobcats stuffed Nungaray for minus-1 yard on two rushing plays, quarterback Ryan Perrin threw an incomplete pass, and the Vikings’ final throw found a reciever, but it didn’t find the first down marker.
The Bobcats got the ball with 1:27 to play and ran out the clock.
“They’ve been working hard ... and it showed (Friday night),” Huerta said.
“It’s just the hard work they put in this week.”
That keystone defensive stop followed two more in the final frame of play – one ending on an Adison Jones interception and one on a fourth-down sack a drive earlier.
Those stops were the product of a week of strenuous practice – one in which Huerta said he wasn’t too much fun to be around – and the rise of vocal leaders such as the sophomore Mickey, who did “a little bit of the yelling in practice” and a lot of the tackling on the field Friday.
But the real difference, Mickey said, was in the fourth-quarter teamwork.
“They got aggressive,” said Mickey, son of Jeremey and Tracy Mickey. “They finally started working together.
“Teamwork. I couldn’t do it without the rest of the 10 other guys out there making tackles, helping me make tackles.”
It was a good thing, too, because by the end of the second half, the Ignacio offense had gone as cold as the defense, and not in a good way.
The Bobcats’ offense struggled on its final two drives, going three and out before turning the ball over for the Vikings’ last-ditch push.
But before that Isaac Peña had been plenty hot.
Trailing 13-12 after Center scored on a 17-yard Nungaray run midway through the third quarter (the extra point was good, the only successful extra point in the game), the Bobcats answered with a 72-yard drive capped by a Clayton Jefferson fumble in the end zone, upon which running back Peña smothered for the 18-13 lead.
Appropriate, considering the small but slippery rusher led the Bobcats with 143 rushing yards as their most potent weapon.
“My line really stepped up this week,” said Peña, son of Kenneth and Shasta Peña. “I couldn’t have done it without the line making those holes, making those blocks.”
“Isaac has been just fantastic,” Huerta said. “I knew he could run that way.”
Jones threw for the other two Bobcats’ scores, the first on a 26-yard pass to Jefferson to even the game 6-6 in the second quarter and the second on a 25-yard hook-up with Joe Herrera a few minutes later to take their first lead, 12-6.
Both were anomalous on a night where each team struggled to move the ball through the chilly air.
With their first Southern Peaks League win, the Bobcats improved to 2-6 overall and 1-2 in the league.
They will close out the season with two more SPL games: at Del Norte at 1 p.m. Oct. 20, then Dolores at home at 7 p.m. Oct. 26.
“I told my kids ... we’re going to win these last three games, but we’ve got to play hard,” Huerta said.