Manuel Vargas was going to see some playing time on the football field against Portales last week.
He wasn’t expecting it to happen behind center.
The game plan the Capital football team created for the game called for Vargas to play cornerback, while his friend, Dion Martinez, took snaps at quarterback. All of that went out the window after the second series of the nondistrict game after Martinez threw an interception with the Jaguars down 12-0.
In came Vargas, who doubled as the backup quarterback, and he helped start an offensive turnaround. Capital managed 335 yards of offense in a 35-26 loss, and 326 of it came under the guidance of Vargas, who was the starter last year after Martinez broke his leg on the final play of a preseason scrimmage at Bernalillo.
It wasn’t the way Vargas wanted to return to quarterback, but he made sure to make the most of his opportunity.
It likely paved the way to him keeping the starter position for the time being — at least for next week’s District 2-5A opener at Albuquerque Del Norte on Oct. 18.
“It’s been a learning process,” Vargas said. “I’m just glad to be back.”
Perhaps the most important quality Vargas learned was patience. While he was the starter last year, he ended up sitting on the sidelines in the same fashion that Martinez did. He suffered a knee injury in practice just before Capital went to Bernalillo for this season’s scrimmage. It opened the door for Martinez to take a firm grasp on the position, giving him the chance that he was denied a year ago.
“It pissed me off,” Martinez said of last year’s injury. “Every single day, seeing my twin brother [Dominic Martinez, a linebacker and receiver] out there just working and seeing the whole team out there working and knowing I’m not out there, just made me work harder every single day. I didn’t want to miss a summer or any single thing. I wanted to come out and work.”
Martinez made his mark in piloting an offense that averaged 270 rushing yards per game and relied heavily on the running duo of Luke Padilla and Gio Muñoz. What the Jaguars needed, however, was a passing threat to take some of the pressure off the running game. It was there in spades with Martinez, just not enough. The interception led Capital head coach Bill Moon to change quarterbacks and see if it gave the offense the spark it needed.
Vargas completed four of his six passes and finished the game 4-for-8 for 86 yards and a touchdown that brought the Jaguars to within 20-18 late in the first half. While the starting job might belong to Vargas for the moment, don’t think Moon won’t hesitate to bring Martinez back if the situation arises.
“Somebody once said, ‘If you have a quarterback controversy, you don’t have a quarterback,’ ” Moon said. “We don’t have a quarterback controversy. We have two quarterbacks.”
Vargas said one area he worked on in the offseason was his throwing, which was a weak link for the team last year. Capital offensive coordinator Joe Jiron changed up the offense to implement more rollouts for quarterbacks — in part, because neither Vargas not Martinez were comfortable in the pocket. But it also added a running element because it forced defensive backs to make a choice — defend the pass or stop the quarterback keeper.
“I keyed on my sprint-outs,” Vargas said. “I practiced throwing on the run and hitting moving targets and nonmoving targets.”
His 41-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Ray Roybal was an example of that work, as he rolled out and hit Roybal on the run with a 35-yard pass and Roybal finished it off with a six-yard sprint into the end zone. The two almost combined on similar play in the third quarter, but Roybal dropped the ball. It proved crucial, as Capital failed to score on the drive while Portales nursed a 35-18 lead.
As for Martinez, he assumed a greater role in the secondary and helped Capital shore up weaknesses that allowed the Rams to connect on four passes of 30 yards or more — three of which went for touchdowns. Martinez said he didn’t harbor any ill will about the change, and it was something Jiron emphasized when he talked to Martinez the day after the game.
“I understand it 100 percent,” Martinez said. “It was a coaching decision. Nothing sad, no hard feelings. They made it, and I am just ready to go play ball on defense.”
Moon praised Martinez’s maturity in handling the situation, but added that he has a team full of like-minded players.
“One door closes, and another one opens,” Moon said. “Their misfortune translated right into becoming successful on the other side of the ball. That’s what kind of team players we have here, and that’s what makes me feel good about the program. Everybody seems very quick to adapt. ‘Well, this isn’t the way I thought it would play out, but I have an opportunity help the team to this.’
“This is a fun team because there isn’t an ounce of selfishness or me-firstness. Boy, do we have some people who might rightly want to claim that.”