Woe to the Santa Fe Indian School Braves.

After having to wait 20 months to return to the football field because of the coronavirus pandemic, the football program chose this season — of all seasons — to play in District 2-3A.

It’s tough enough for the Braves in a normal year — you know, when you can insert Las Vegas Robertson and St. Michael’s as district and state title favorites — but try to rebuild a program when every single district team carries state title aspirations. If there was ever a year for SFIS to take a season off, this was it.

Just look at MaxPreps.com’s power rankings: Four of the top five spots are occupied by a 2-3A team, leading off with a special Raton team that is 9-0 and sits atop the rankings. Stalwarts St. Michael’s and Las Vegas Robertson are second and fifth, while a West Las Vegas program that has yet to win a district game is ranked fourth.

Raton has a once-in-a-decade senior class, highlighted by quarterback Dylan Quartieri.

St. Michael’s has a deep squad that overcame a season-ending injury to quarterback Lucas Coriz.

Robertson might have the best offensive weapon in 3A with quarterback Matthew Gonzales, who is averaging 178.2 yards in total offense (rushing/passing/receiving).

West Las Vegas has a bright future with just one senior and a freshman quarterback in A.J. Perea leading the way.

If you pumped truth serum into the district’s coaches, they would tell you they believe the state playoffs should be an all 2-3A matchup for the semifinals (with all apologies to Socorro and Albuquerque Hope Christian). This season could mimic the 2007 season, which was an all-district semifinal with Raton, St. Michael’s, Robertson and Albuquerque Academy facing off for a spot in the 3A championship.

Truth be told, this might be the best district in football, regardless of class, and yes, that is taking into account the beast that is District 1-6A that includes the two best teams in the state (Rio Rancho and Rio Rancho Cleveland). Eliminate the talent portion of this equation for a minute.

Consider that, excluding the Santa Fe Indian School games everybody but West Las Vegas has played, the average margin of victory in the games featuring the four district schools is a scant 2.5 points. Raton has the largest margin of victory — a 14-7 win over the Dons on Oct. 1.

St. Michael’s withstood a stiff West Las Vegas defense Saturday to pull out a 13-12 win.

When the Tigers and the Cardinals played Oct. 8, the Cardinals missed two extra-point kicks and had to go for two in the final seconds of a 28-26 loss.

And if you thought those games were intense, just wait for the final two weeks. Friday features a Horsemen-Cardinals matchup that will no doubt be a slobberknocker.

Then comes Oct. 30, the final day of the regular season, when Raton travels to Santa Fe to take on the Horsemen with a chance to finish the season undefeated. But it also could determine who will own the top seed in the 3A playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Meadow City will be in the grips of another Robertson-West Las Vegas battle that won’t have district title implications, but will determine fourth place in 2-3A.

Don’t discount that last detail. Chances are, the fourth-place team in the district will end up either as the sixth or seventh seed in the bracket. That would likely mean a matchup against the district runnerup and thwart an all-district semifinal dream.

While the top four teams are drawing all the attention, don’t forget about those Braves. Even though they will not win a district game this season, a 5-5 record might be enough to swing a 12th seed and a playoff spot.

And what a reward for a program that spent the past month getting beat up in the perhaps the best district in the state.

Sometimes playing the best has its reward.

(2) comments

Jeff Case

Nice writing. Even handed, but exciting and interesting. The New Mexican has the best sports writers!

David Romero

Don't underestimate WLV. They have the team to go all the way.

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