As coach Andrew Martinez looked out upon the 32 Santa Fe High Demons who kneeled around him on the turf at F.M. Wilson Stadium, he was succinct in his team’s predicament with three weeks left in the 2021 season.
“We’re in trouble,” Martinez said.
Trouble didn’t just come in the form of the host Sandia Matadors, who dominated just about every facet of the game in rolling to a 55-28 District 2/5-6A win over the Demons on Friday night.
It didn’t just come in the form of five missing Santa Fe High starters who were either sick or not in town, or the tender ankle of star running back Martell Mora, who at one point muttered, “My foot is burning” as he walked off the field.
It also came in the simple form of an activities bus, because it meant the Demons had to turn into road warriors. Martinez, the fifth-year Santa Fe High head coach, said he hasn’t seen his team do that yet this season.
“We have to find a way to do better on the road and be ready to play, which we’re not at this point,” Martinez said. “I gotta look at what I’m doing wrong first, and I gotta fix it.”
For the first time this season, Martinez said his team did not match the physicality of its opponent. It showed almost from the start of the game.
Sandia (2-4 overall, 1-1 in 2/5-6A) punted just twice as it managed 483 yards of total offense. Quarterback Dalen Moyer connected on 10 of his first 13 passes and finished 14 for 21 for 239 yards and three touchdowns. Matadors running back Malachi Thymes ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns to lead a rushing attack that gained 244 yards.
It seemed like the Demons (5-2, 1-2) were a half-step slow, which was just enough for Sandia to wreak havoc. Santa Fe High senior cornerback/wide receiver Joaquin Martinez said the team’s energy level isn’t there like it is for home games.
“When we come to Albuquerque, we freak out and get scared,” Joaquin Martinez said. “Like coach said, the energy is different. At home, we’re ready. Over here, it’s like a bunch of deer in headlights.”
Despite Sandia’s offensive explosion, the Demons found themselves down just 14-13 in the final seconds of the first half when four plays turned a rough start into a long night.
Sandia were fourth-and-goal at the Santa Fe High 3 yard line with 13 seconds left when the Demons were called for offsides, even though the ball had not been snapped.
The penalty came on the heels of a third-down play in which Moyer threw the ball away to the left corner of the end zone, even though no player was in the vicinity. The Santa Fe High coaching staff argued for an intentional grounding penalty, but the lead referee told Martinez the intended Sandia player ran the wrong route.
Reprieved, Thymes scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 8.3 seconds left to give Matadors a 21-13 lead. Then, the Demons muffed a squib kickoff, which Sandia recovered at the Santa Fe High 34.
Moyer ended the half by heaving a Hail Mary pass that was batted, then caught by Andrew Hill, who bulled his way into the end zone for a touchdown and a 28-13 lead.
After making a pair of body blows, the Matadors tried for the knockout on the opening kickoff of the second half. Gauge Berlint took a short kickoff on the left side of the field, then ran to the right side and around the Demons for a 75-yard return and a 34-13 margin just 14 seconds into the second half.
“It was just physicality,” senior linebacker Santiago Ortega said. “You just got to come out and be better than them, physically.”
Even though, Alex Mora responded with a 98-yard kickoff return on the next play to bring the Demons within 35-21, the Matadors’ offense simply picked up where it left off.
A six-play, 63-yard drive culminated with a 7-yard touchdown run by Berlint.
The point-after kick was missed, but a 41-21 lead was too much for the offensively challenged Demons to overcome.
They managed just 88 yards of offense in the first half, and 156 for the game. If not for Alex Mora’s kickoff return and an 85-yard interception return by Daniel Wright for a touchdown, the final score would have looked worse for the Demons.
With the season down to three games, Martinez said every game is a must-win, especially next week’s matchup against Clovis. Suddenly, a break-through season is in jeopardy.
“We gotta win out,” Martinez said. “We can’t lose to Clovis. That is why this loss is real, real bad. We got to win this week.
“We have to.”