Thursday, December 3, 2009

‘Sweet’ Win For Socorro’s Warriors

By Nicky Romero

SOCORRO – Raton had a Division I quarterback and was supposed to have too much firepower for Socorro. Raton was supposed to have too much speed for Socorro. And Raton was supposed to cruise into the state finals against the powerful Lovington Wildcats.
The Warriors, though, had other ideas.
Socorro depended on its usual stalwart defense and got some points from an improving offense that added up to a 21-17 victory against Raton Saturday, Nov. 28 at Warrior Stadium.
"Offensively, we got a little better from last week to this week,” Socorro coach Damien Ocampo said after the game. “We've got to continue improving and hopefully give Lovington everything we've got.
“The win is sweet, real sweet. The only coach to coach a state championship game in Socorro was Coach Eddie Castaneda in 1977. He was one of my coaches in high school when I first moved here. It's real special. I know Naomi and Edie (Coach Castaneda's wife and daughter) were at the game. It's real special to be in the championship game again. He's one of the people I really looked up to. He was special.”
And it was an extremely special day for the Warriors.
The Warriors will look to win their second state title in school history Saturday, Dec. 5 when they meet Lovington, which has won 15 Class AAA state championships in its rich history.
And the other good news for the Warriors is that they will get to play at home in the final football game of the year in the state of New Mexico.
“Socorro came out and just played better than we did,” Raton coach Brock Walton said. “They had a better scheme, their boys just played harder, and just wanted it more. We had a terrific year, but Coach Ocampo put together a great scheme today. He just shut us down to 17 points -- the fewest we've scored this year by a long ways. We just could never get on track.”
The key for Socorro was that it got off to a fast start.
And it was the defense that got the Warriors on the scoreboard first.
Socorro’s Zach Esquivel picked off Raton quarterback Dustin Walton, who stands at 6-feet-4 and weighs 219 pounds, and scampered 25 yards for the score with 5:03 remaining. in the first quarter. Zach Binger tacked on the extra point for a 7-0 lead. The key to the play was that Socorro’s Cesar Espino pressured Walton right before he threw the ball.
On the ensuing kickoff, Socorro’s Ray Vaiza made the hit on a Raton ball carrier, who fumbled. Socorro’s James Thorton recovered the ball on the 48.
Socorro’s offense went nowhere on three straight plays and Vaiza lined up to punt. Vaiza took the snap and threw a 29-yard pass to Maiga Ibrahim for a first down at the Raton 20.
Esquivel, though, gave the ball back to Raton when he threw a pass that was intercepted by Philip Mendez. Raton drove the ball down to the Socorro 19 on long passes from Walton to Mendez. Facing a fourth down and 15 at the Socorro 19, Walton passed for 10 yards and Socorro took over on downs.
The Warriors immediately took advantage. Jose Alvarado ran the ball 15 yards to the 25 and on the very next play he scooted 62 yards down to the Raton 18. Thorton picked up another first down with an 11-yard run. Esquivel did the rest and scored his second touchdown of the game with just over nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Raton’s offense got untracked and it cut the margin to 14-7 when Walton handed off to wide receiver Derrick Valdez, who threw a pass to a wide open Janti Abaza for a 37-yard touchdown with 7:56 left.
Raton got the ball back with 5:02 left and drove from its own 15 to the Socorro 11. Facing fourth and 10, the Tigers attempted a pass, but the Warriors were called for pass interference giving Raton an automatic first down. With 42 seconds left and the ball on the 2, running back Malachi Morphew scored to tie the game at 14-14.
Instead of running out the clock, Socorro opted to throw the ball and it proved costly. Esquivel was intercepted by Abaza. Raton settled for a 35-yard field goal by Abaza right before halftime for a 17-14 lead.
“They are very well coached and we knew if we let that quarterback have time to throw, it was going to be over quick,” Ocampo said. “So we had to pressure him and did what we could do."
Ocampo encouraged his players at halftime, telling them, "Keep playing hard and put pressure on them. We made a couple of adjustments that I think helped us in the second half. When you play hard for four quarters, good things happen."
And they did for the Warriors.
The Warriors took the second half kickoff and started at their own 26. Esquivel threw a 19 yard pass to Thorton, who then ran 13 yards on the next play. Alvarado carried for 16 yards to the 29.
Socorro seemingly stalled and it faced a fourth down and 12 at the 31. Esquivel went back to pass and could not find an open receiver. He scrambled and weaved his way through the Raton defenders for a 31-yard touchdown to give the Warriors a 21-17 lead after Binger’s third extra point split the uprights. “The defense stepped up real big,” Esquivel said. “They were up four and they said we’ve got to do this. And we did it.”
Socorro’s defense kept the pressure on Walton and Raton.
The Tigers began the fourth quarter with an 11-play drive as Walton threw passes for 25 and 23 yards to Silva. Using up almost five minutes, Raton faced a fourth down and 19 at the Warriors 27. The Warriors came up with another big defensive play as Walton was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by Matthew Lopez for a 4-yard loss.
Raton got the ball back with just over five minutes left. After two first downs, Walton handed the ball off to Morphew, who was hit by Esquivel causing a fumble. Sky Chadde pounced on the ball for the Warriors at the 45.
“Our defense today, they were incredible,” center Joe Carilli said. “I can’t say enough about them. We scored but it was them that kept Raton from scoring. Those guys are a big scoring team. We don’t win big but we win big games.”
Socorro’s offense then secured the victory. With four minutes left, Alvarado ran the ball two straight times and Socorro faced a third down and seven situation. Esquivel kept the ball for 12 yards and a first down. With Raton out of timeouts and just two minutes left on the clock, Ocampo instructed Esquivel to take a knee three straight times.
“We knew we had to run the clock a little bit,” Ocampo said. “We knew we had to run the ball. We were hoping we didn't have as many turnovers, but we also got a couple. They're just a really good football team. And when it comes to this point in time, everybody is good and you just can't make mistakes. And that's the bottom line.”

John Severance contributed to this story.

Publisher’s Note:
The Mountain Mail is proud to sponsor Warrior Playoff giveaways before each game and provide film study meals for the team this week. Alum Jonathan Jaramillo, a longtime Warrior Football supporter of Coach Ocampo and his teams throughout the years, sends his congratulations from New York and wishes everyone in Socorro an exciting and victorious championship day.


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