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Gridiron gridlock: Not much to cheer about as season has lackluster start

West Las Vegas star running back Darion Williams (with the ball) tries to elude the grasp of Pojoaque Valley’s Jonathan Chavez in a game the Dons won 46-6 last week. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

West Las Vegas star running back Darion Williams (with the ball) tries to elude the grasp of Pojoaque Valley’s Jonathan Chavez in a game the Dons won 46-6 last week. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

The leaves are starting to change and there is a discernible fall crispness to the evenings. So here we are, essentially at the midpoint of the fall prep season.

But, for most northern New Mexico gridiron fans, the season thus far has been one generally filled with disappointment.

There are, of course, a few notable exceptions of teams performing at or above expectations but, for the most part, with district play either already upon us or drawing nigh, it has been a barren landscape.

Of course, district is a whole new season and can give new life to teams.

Here is a rundown of just where things stand for the local teams and what grades each squad has earned so far.

It has been a rough go to this point for the Demons, who are one of five of schools in the class without a win. Santa Fe has been outscored 148-52 and tonight’s meeting at Los Alamos could be the last reasonably winnable game on the schedule – at least on paper.

The Demons head into rugged 2-6A play with less than 600 total yards of offense combined. One bright note is senior Alex Abeyta, who has 257 rushing yards, with 145 of those coming in a one-point loss to Taos, which included an 82-yard touchdown run. Grade D-.

A little regression after a standout 2015 season was to be expected, especially with several key seniors graduated. But the Jaguars perhaps bit off more than they could handle with an opening night game against Goddard.

Although Capital played the Rockets nearly dead, even in the playoffs last season, Goddard delivered a pasting from which the Jags are still trying to recover. Things could be looking up, however, as the Jaguars travel south for a final tune-up against winless Lovington before embarking on district play in a group that has proven to be fairly woeful. Grade D+, with a chance for improvement.

Robertson’s Arjay Ortiz makes an interception during a 47-14 win over Ruidoso. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

Robertson’s Arjay Ortiz makes an interception during a 47-14 win over Ruidoso. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

Oof. A year ago, the Sundevils fed off smaller schools, building confidence while playing toward a run at a rare postseason appearance. But a field full of senior starters and the coach are all gone from that team and the new regime has struggled to get any kind of consistency out of the inexperienced, returning players.

Española is one of five winless teams in the class and has been outscored 178-36. Only three teams have a worse margin of defeat. And perhaps nothing hurt more than losing to Class 2A Escalante 8-0 in the season’s second week. Grade D-.

By comparison to its district mates, the Hilltoppers are the true bullies on the block. Los Alamos can be considered a team on the rise, especially if quarterback Nick Quartieri continues to play as he did last week against Gallup. He rushed for 240 yards and five touchdowns – including a 99-yard jaunt – and also threw for a score in a rout.

Los Alamos, however, needs to become more consistent offensively and find additional threats to complement their quarterback. If the Hilltoppers can do so, they could do-si-do to the district championship. Grade C.

The Elks have a couple of nice wins on the résumé, including a three-overtime thriller over Hot Springs. So the season is already a success after a winless campaign last season. But Pojoaque also has a couple of disappointing results, like a loss to Escalante and starting off District 2/5-4A play with a loss to West Las Vegas.

Daniel Rael has grabbed the reins at quarterback, averaging almost 200 yards a game, while rushing for more than 100 per outing. He’s also accounted for 13 TDs. And Israel Martinez has emerged as one of the top receivers in the state, with 368 yards receiving and four scores. Grade B-.

The Cardinals, one of three remaining undefeated squads in the class, seem to be fueled by their state championship game defeat last season. This is not a mere blip. Robertson is a consistent title contender and this season is no different.

The Cardinals employ a punishing ground game behind seniors Joseph Paul Griego (603 yards, seven TDs) and Marc Grano (472 yards, five TDs). The defense has been special, as well, with nine sacks and seven forced turnovers. The is a squad that should be playing deep into the playoffs. Grade A.

The Horsemen will be trying to reverse a two-game losing skid when it opens district play tonight at Bernalillo. Although St. Mike’s won its opening two games against city rivals Santa Fe and Capital, defensive deficiencies emerged that the next two opponents were able to exploit.

If the Horsemen can get the rush defense straightened out, they have a chance to right the ship. Senior running back Xavier Vigil controls the offense, leading the team in rushing yards, as well as receptions and yards. At linebacker, he’s also the team’s leading tackler. Grade C.

The Braves have the built-in disadvantage of no summer program, so the team is always struggling in catch-up mode. And playing a district slate against schools its own size could get a little dicey, as Taos showed last week in a 54-0 demolition. SFIS has shown a strong running game, with Anders Pecos (238 yards, five TDs), Jamian Garcia (269 yards) and Alec Lee (201 yards) all showing the ability to move the ball.

Although the passing game has struggled at times, Hartwell has emerged as a significant threat, with 201 yards on seven catches. Grade C.

The Tigers have won three straight games, including a one-point victory over Santa Fe, so they are rolling into district play. Taos has displayed an aggressive defense that can come up with the big play, but also yield the big play.

The offense has been led by running back Ryan McCarty, who also provides the defense with a spark in the defensive backfield. Going forward, the defense will have to show more consistency to compete with the likes of Robertson and St. Mike’s in district play. Grade B-.

The Dons have made significant strides as a program that would qualify as a contender as most-improved team in the class. WLV boasts a bona fide star in sophomore running back Darion Williams. The diminutive speedster is among the top ball carriers in the state regardless of class, racking up 892 yards on 113 carries (7.9 average) with 11 touchdowns.

McCurdy running back Andres Martinez looks to elude Santa Fe Indian School’s Jamian Garcia in the Bobcats’ 38-0 win earlier this month. (Courtesy of Roman Martinez Jr.)

McCurdy running back Andres Martinez looks to elude Santa Fe Indian School’s Jamian Garcia in the Bobcats’ 38-0 win earlier this month. (Courtesy of Roman Martinez Jr.)

And he’s added another three scores receiving. He punished Albuquerque Academy to the tune of 334 yards. Freshman Estevan Gonzales has emerged as a downfield receiving threat with 278 yards and three touchdowns. Grade A-.

The Bobcats had high hopes for their first season in a larger class, but they stumbled in their two outings. For McCurdy to succeed, it must control the ball on the ground behind three primary ball carriers. Andres Martinez is leading the way with 355 yards on 35 carries and six TDs.

Marcos Gonzales has added 303 yards and three scores, and Ernesto Martinez has 250 yards and two touchdowns. The defense has been prolific in attacking, with Lucas Samora already grabbing eight of the team’s 20 sacks. Grade C.

It’s just more domination for the Lobos, who have allowed just 20 total points on the season and have three shutouts. The closest game Escalante has had was a 38-14 win over Pojoaque. The punishing defense has created 15 turnovers, led by Waylon Hinds’ three interceptions and Noah Ruppert’s two fumble recoveries.

Offensively, it’s all about the ground game as Diego Aguilar has 506 yards and seven touchdowns, and quarterback Tristan Martinez has 479 yards and five TDs. Grade A+.

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