When the 2019 season officially began in August, Ignacio head coach Alfonso “Ponch” Garcia mentioned how proud he was of the number of players present for the grind’s initial practices.
And based on the returning talent, there seemingly was just one thing he feared:
“I hope they don’t drop like in the past,” he said, regarding those personnel figures.
Based on clearing that hurdle, Ignacio’s campaign could be considered a success, particularly when looking at things like a season-opening home win in overtime versus a bigger school’s junior-varsity squad, a solid road win beginning 1A Southern Peaks League play and a vastly improved result – allowing 44 fewer points than in last year’s meeting – against perennial SPL contenders Monte Vista.
And unlike in 2018, the Bobcats will indeed suit up for a season finale – another “win” for Ignacio football.
The only problem is their scheduled opponent: fourth-ranked Centauri in far-off La Jara.
Coming off a thorough, more or less expected 35-0 road rout of Dolores last Friday, Ignacio (3-5, 2-1 SPL) will enter the 1 p.m. Friday clash knowing that even the slightest mistake made against the Bears and repeated against the Falcons could have devastating consequences.
Last week, Centauri avenged last year’s late-season, non-league loss to previously fourth-ranked Florence with a 28-20 home win that saw Centauri improve in the rankings from sixth to fourth this week.
Remaining 3-0 in conference but improving to 7-1 overall, Centauri again got a fast first-half start to go into intermission leading 21-7 before Florence (7-1) made the contest a game with 13 unanswered third-quarter points.
Florence lost three fumbles and tossed one interception, plucked by established ball-hawk Baron Holman, and allowed three sacks by 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior Daniel Chavez, meaning Ignacio’s passing game, which struggled greatly at Dolores – unofficially a combined 1-of-9, 7-yard showing by Gabe Tucson and Teagan Roukema – will have to feature spot-on accuracy and precise blocking up front to have any hope of threatening the Falcons deep.
Further complicating the issue, Bobcat receiver Colten Jackson’s availability is a question mark. The senior appeared to injure his right wrist/hand late against the Bears and ultimately sang the Ignacio fight song with his joyous teammates wearing a brace.
“The offense that we run, we’re hoping to get the ball to him as much as we can,” said Garcia. “And the receiving corps has been working hard. I wish we could throw the ball more, but it is what it is.”
Senior Eric Maez leads the Falcons under center and will look to replicate his 12-of-16 for 116 yards posted versus Florence. Sophomore Mason Claunch and senior Taj Cornum combined for 153 yards against the Huskies on 38 carries – two of Claunch’s went for touchdowns – while Zach Buhr gained another 45 on just four.
Claunch also caught a team-high four passes for 37 yards, while Holman, also just a sophomore, snared three for 34 with one TD.
The junior would have the last laugh, however, intercepting Dolores reserve QB Trey Seekins with 7 seconds remaining in the game. It was the Bobcats’ third takeaway – along with senior Stephan Gomez’s 16-yard fumble-recovery TD late in the first quarter, and senior Ian Weinreich’s recovery early in the second) of the night, to go along with a blocked punt (by senior Clay Campbell with 11:55 left in the second – and multiple sacks of Seekins and sophomore starter Wyatt Koskie.
Precisely the sort of defensive effort which will be required to successfully sew up the 2019 season far from home and create a three-way tie atop the SPL standings with Monte Vista (3-5) having already improved to 3-1 in conference with last week’s 36-6 drubbing of Center (3-5, 0-3).
A Viking victory would have made Ignacio-Centauri a winner-take-all affair, the only way the Bobcats, which actually stood an improved 34th out of 40 in the Class 1A RPI ratings as of Thursday morning, could then qualify for the state playoffs.