Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Socorro Falls at Albuquerque Academy

By Patrick Jason Rodriguez
Mountain Mail Editor

ALBUQUERQUE – Socorro defensive coordinator Chuck Zimmerly had warned his players that something like this might happen.
“They’ll run it, and run it, and run it, and then, just when you think they’ll pass it, they’ll run it again.”
And that was pretty much what Albuquerque Academy did on Saturday afternoon.
It started with a quarterback keeper. Then a sweep to the left. And then a run up the middle. Followed by another quarterback keeper.
You get the idea.
When it was all said and done, the Chargers reached the end zone nine times en route to a 63-21 home triumph over Socorro in a Class 3A state playoff quarterfinal football game at Richard Harper Memorial Field.
Despite the 42-point margin of victory, one player stood out: Brandon Branch. The Academy quarterback baffled the Socorro defense for three quarters (he was given a rest in the final period), rushing for 323 yards on 14 carries and five touchdowns.
“He’s one of the best players in New Mexico, probably one of the best athletes in the state,” said Zimmerly, regarding Branch. “He was the difference in the game. There was just too much of him.”
The win keeps the third-seeded Chargers’ season perfect at 10-0, the only undefeated team in Class 3A, and will host Raton in the semifinals. The Warriors, seeded sixth, finish their season at 7-5, two games short of a return trip the state championship.
“We weren’t going to win this game without containing their offense from the beginning,” Academy coach Kevin said. “Fortunately that’s what we did, because they really could have hurt us.”
The game started OK for Socorro. Following an opening scoring drive by Academy, the Warriors did likewise on their first possession, a 78-yard drive that was capped by a 43-yard touchdown run by James Thornton, breaking four tackle tries along the way, with 5:24 remaining in the first quarter.
But the Chargers came right back and scored on their next possession, thanks to a 36-yard run by Branch, who broke off five tackle attempts by the Socorro defense, to make it 14-7.
It looked promising for Socorro on its next possession. The Warriors brought the ball to the Academy 20-yard line. However, after a couple of rushing attempts for no gain and an incomplete pass, Ray Vaiza missed a 32-yard field goal attempt that was just wide right.
Academy took advantage on its next possession, driving the ball 80 yards, capped by a three-yard touchdown run by Nash Phillips, to make it 21-7.
The Chargers would then score on each of their next two possessions – a 42-yard by Branch, followed by a 47-yard touchdown pass from Louie Volk to Phillips on a punt fake – to take a 35-7 lead into halftime.
Still, there had been reason for optimism on the visitors’ side.
Socorro had come from behind before this season, such was the case when they beat Albuquerque Hope Christian, 33-22, in the first-round of the playoffs on Nov. 12.
But there would be no second-half magic this Saturday.
“They pulled us out of game plan early,” Socorro coach Damien Ocampo said. “We came here focused, relaxed, ready to play.” Then, after a pause, he added in a somber tone, “We missed a lot of tackles.”
The loss might not be as costly for Warriors. Ocampo said that he liked what he saw from the players who would be stepping into leadership roles next season and the level of maturity that the outgoing seniors played with this season.
“In spite of what took place today, I’m proud of all of you,” the sixth-year coach told his players directly after the game. “You guys have nothing to be ashamed of.”
After Academy scored on its first possession of the second half, Thornton returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to the Chargers’ 14-yard line. On the only play of the drive, quarterback Zachary Esquivel kept the ball and ran it in for a touchdown with 8:04 seconds in the third quarter, to make it 42-14.
Thornton, a senior, finished with 58 yards rushing on 12 carries and two ouchdowns. Esquivel, also a senior, completed 14 of 27 passes for 132 yards, and ran the ball 15 times for a team-high 92 yards.
The Warriors’ final touchdown came with 7:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, driving the ball 65 yards on nine plays, capped by an Esquivel four-yard keeper, which made it 56-21.
Jared Marquez, a senior, had nine catches for a game-high 91 yards receiving for Socorro.
“We had some good schemes,” Ocampo said of his team’s game plan coming into Saturday‘s contest. “It’s a tough loss, but, you know, it is what it is. We’ll try again next year.”

Picture: Socorro tailback James Thornton is stopped after a short yardage gain.

Photo by Patrick Jason Rodriguez

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