Let’s cut to the chase: Saturday represents Santa Fe High’s biggest football game in the 21st century.
Don’t roll your eyes at what some of you might say is hyperbole. Remember, this is a program that has a grand total of zero winning seasons and played in a grand total of two playoff games since the millennium began. It’s a program that has a just two winning seasons since 1986 — also known as The New Mexican sports editor Will Webber’s sophomore year at St. Michael’s.
It’s also a program that is 4-0 and has built momentum in winning the mythical city championship for the first time in 13 years after beating the Horsemen and Capital in consecutive weeks. But “big boy” football is coming — in the form of the Eagles of Albuquerque Eldorado.
How appropriate that the Eagles stand in the way of the Demons. Those with long enough memories know the last time Santa Fe High was on top of the state football world, it came after beating the Eagles in the 1979 Class 4A state championship.
Those with shorter memories know the Eagles as the last big-school district opponent Santa Fe High faced, having steamrolled the Demons, 60-7, in a 2-6A game in 2016.
And so it is that Eldorado welcomes the City Different’s flagship school back to “big boy” football Saturday afternoon at F.M. Wilson Stadium.
That is not to say the weight of the world is on the Demons’ shoulders, but the matchup offers the program an opportunity to show it is not the same old welcome mat other big schools wipe their feet on to make themselves feel better.
The matchup feels eerily reminiscent of the 2002 Demons, which jumped out to a 4-1 record and had Albuquerque Sandia down 13-0 in the opening moments of the District 2-5A opener before allowing 27 unanswered points and disappearing into the night — for 19 years.
The Eagles offer Santa Fe High something it has lacked this century and much of the past 35 years — credibility. The Demons don’t need to win for that to happen. They just need to be competitive.
If they’re within striking distance of the Eagles in the second half, it’s more than a moral victory for Santa Fe High. It sends a message to the rest of the district, and maybe even the state, that the Demons aren’t the patsies they have been for far too long.
This year’s edition of the Demons is clearly one of the best teams in the program’s recent memory — maybe even the best this century. Their offensive line is physical, and with the possible return of 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior tackle Ben White to the fold, Santa Fe High might be even more physical.
Martell Mora is one of the best running backs in the state, who runs with a ferocity and determination that makes you feel like he’s played in every single Demons game since 1987. With head coach Andrew Martinez piloting the defense, Santa Fe High can feel comfortable it will be in most district games.
The ingredients are there. The Demons have six games to prove they are different than what perception says they are.
There would be no better feel-good story than a Santa Fe High team in the Class 6A playoffs. It’s been far too long since it’s happened, and this current crop of Demons deserves it. But, so do the ghosts of Demons past who suffered the slings and arrows of blowout losses and tepid, if not invisible, support over the past 35 years.
Sure, the Demons could win Saturday and change the entire narrative of the 2021 season. It would be a wonderful story to write for Sunday’s paper. But even if it doesn’t happen, Santa Fe High players and supporters deserves to breathe in something different than resignation Saturday evening.
They deserve a dose of hope.