Notes from the North

In the final practice leading into Saturday’s game against No. 1 Socorro, the St. Michael’s football coaching staff made the players a deal: Force five turnovers against the Warriors and the team could skip the dreaded cones.

Cones, as it was explained after the game, is a brutal conditioning drill done every Monday, one that requires more running than any standard football player wants to deal with after a full day’s practice.

The coaches’ deal added extra drama to Saturday’s game, which ended with a 35-7 Horsemen win that restored a sense of calm and confidence into a team that was reeling after losing its leader to injury.

The Horsemen had picked off Socorro quarterback Alex Amaro four times, returning two of them for touchdowns. The Warriors had the ball for one final drive, and Amaro opened the door for that cherished fifth turnover when he fumbled on a running play to the left.

He lost the ball as he hit the second wave, kicking it forward. It rolled free for about five or six yards, finally getting covered by Socorro.

With 28 seconds left, Amaro fumbled again. This time St. Michael’s cornerback Isaac Ruiz fell on it and immediately ran toward the sideline as the rest of his teammates celebrated the magic number that gave everyone a Monday off from the cones.

“I mean, it’s part of what we do but, yeah, no one likes running those things,” Ruiz said.

Saturday’s win returns St. Michael’s to its preseason status as one of Class 3A’s top teams alongside Raton, Robertson, Socorro, Hope Christian and others.

As he addressed his players after the game, Horsemen coach Joey Fernandez said he might be onto something, because all it took to get his defense to force five turnovers and beat the No. 1 team in the state was bribing them to get out of running cones.

“I might have to do this every week,” he said.

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A moment of levity in Saturday’s St. Michael’s-Socorro game came in the second quarter when the Horsemen burned their final timeout with more than eight minutes remaining in the first half.

Socorro was lining up for the first play of a drive when the St. Michael’s coaching staff noticed there were only 10 defensive players on the field.

The missing man (a linebacker who shall remain nameless) was standing on the sideline when coach Joey Fernandez called for a timeout.

When asked for an explanation, the player said he thought the Horsemen were on offense.

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Northern New Mexico is an oasis of excellent running backs this season, and that was on display this weekend. West Las Vegas senior Damian Gallegos ran for 290 yards and eight touchdowns in a 72-34 rout of Los Alamos on Thursday, giving him 25 touchdowns (22 rushing, three receiving) this season.

Gallegos is averaging five touchdowns per game, which has him on pace for the state’s regular-season touchdown record. David McGee of Laguna Acoma recorded 51 touchdowns in 2013.

His eight TDs against Los Alamos is tied for second all-time for a single-game performance. It’s not the first time a player has done that to the Hilltoppers. In 2018, Albuquerque Del Norte’s Isaiah Ortiz had eight touchdowns against Los Alamos in a 70-20 win.

For the season, Gallegos has 802 rushing yards, which isn’t even the best in the North. Pojoaque Valley’s Dominic Esquibel broke the 1,000-yard barrier during the Elks’ 54-0 domination of Gallup. Joining him was Santa Fe High’s Martell Mora, whose 267 rushing yards against Manzano gave him 1,022 yards for the season to go with 17 touchdowns overall.

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The prep volleyball season is about to get a lot more interesting for one of the final undefeated teams in the state. Robertson (11-0) has emerged as the knuckle-dragging beast of Class 3A, but the Cardinals will get a handful of tests over the coming weeks with matches against, among others, Taos, Santa Fe Indian School, Santa Fe Prep, St. Michael’s and, most notably, 4A superpower Hope Christian.

Toss in a meeting with a rebuilding West Las Vegas team coached by beloved former leader Stacy Fulgenzi on Oct. 12, and we’ll get an even better feel for how good the Cardinals really are.

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Alex Waggoner has been a one-man scoring machine for the Santa Fe High boys soccer team, but he no longer is the leading goal scorer in the state. Meet Ben Sowers, a senior for the 11-0 Albuquerque’s Oak Grove/Menaul/Evangel Christian program. Sowers has 45 goals in 11 matches for the Class 1A-3A team. Meanwhile, Waggoner leads all 5A scorers with 35 goals, which includes a pair against Los Lunas in a 6-1 win on Saturday.

The Demons are 11-1 and ranked fourth in Class 5A.

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Los Alamos and cross-country go together like green and red, and this year offers a very special crop on the boys side. They are ranked 10th in the southwest region, according to the running website, and continued to pad their résumé with a win at the Rio Rancho Jamboree on Saturday.

The Hilltoppers had its scoring five all finish within the top 17 for a 51-point total in lowest-score-wins format in the championship division.

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