TIERRA AMARILLA — Ten means something to the Escalante/Coronado Lobos, and Dusty Giles set out to make sure it happened.
Faced with the possibility of playing nine or eight games for the 2019 football season because a pair of District 1/5-2A schools shuttered their programs over the past two months (McCurdy and Mission Achievement and Success), Giles set about remedying that problem.
The co-op program’s ninth-year head coach recognized that there was something special about playing a full 10-game schedule for his players, but also knew that math was an important component.
“All these other sports, like basketball, you’re playing 26 games or whatever,” Giles said. “So, if you lose a game here or a game there, it’s not the end of the world. But in football, you lose a game, that’s a big deal. Our kids want to play that game, they worked hard to do it.
“But if you lose two games, you’re losing 20 percent of your schedule. That’s a big deal.”
And in a Chama Valley region that celebrates football with as much reverence as other Northern towns do basketball, not playing football is a mystifying prospect.
“This is the only time we get to play,” said Lobos quarterback Brandon Giles, who is the coach’s son. “I mean, it’s rare we get somebody who plays in college. I even talked to a recruiter and he said, ‘New Mexico? Who comes out of New Mexico?’ So, you just got your high school [career], and I want to make the most out of it. I don’t want to miss one week.”
Fortunately, coach Giles picked up Class 3A schools in Socorro and Navajo Prep to fill in the openings the school had in early October. In the process, he developed a nondistrict schedule that is formidable for the Lobos.
Escalante/Coronado, a 2A school, will play four 3A teams (Tucumcari, Raton, Socorro and Navajo Prep), three 4A programs in Bloomfield (the state runner-up), Pojoaque Valley and Albuquerque Academy (which is playing as an independent) and Colorado’s Alamosa, a 2A school.
Only two teams on the Lobos’ schedule are in-state 2A programs — Estancia and Newcomb — and Newcomb accounts for their lone 1/5-2A game this year. While the district title will come down to that Oct. 18 game at home, neither the players nor their head coach are placing too much emphasis on it.
“The goal is always state,” said Escalante senior lineman Corey Gallegos, referring to the state championship game. “That never changes.”
The program reached the final game of the season in four of its past seven seasons, winning three championships in the process, but 2A is a different division than it was prior to 2018. The addition of reigning 2A champion Eunice, Santa Rosa (the runner-up), Texico and Estancia strengthened a class that revolved around Escalante/Coronado, Fort Sumner, Cloudcroft and Hagerman.
The Lobos took their lumps in the postseason, as the Bears hammered Escalante/Coronado in the 2A quarterfinals by a 63-12 score. The elder Giles feels this year’s team is much better equipped to compete for a state title for the next couple of years, thanks to a beefier offensive line that has several 200-plus pounders (juniors James Garcia, Andres Salazar and Parker Ralston weigh more thn 240 pounds). Gallegos, the center, is the lightweight at 190 pounds.
“We don’t usually have any [big] linemen,” coach Giles said. “We’ve got some guys down there in the trenches. And not just size. You can find that, but you need guys who can move with that size, and we’ve got it.”
Coach Giles added that it allowed him to tweak his offense, in the hopes that the Lobos can be more balanced. In the past, Escalante/Coronado ran sometimes as much as 85 percent of the time, but expect that ratio to drop with Giles’ son behind center.
“I like it,” junior slot reciever Dylan Deyapp said with a grin. “A lot more passes.”
The Lobos’ roster is dominated by upperclassmen, but coach Giles said the team’s success will depend a lot on a group of 10 returning juniors who gained a lot of experience last year — even if it wasn’t in their current roles.
Brandon Giles played receiver and the group’s most experienced player was running back Dante Salazar, who ran for 482 yards and five touchdowns. But Salazar is a bulky 5-foot-8, 180 pounds and brings a blend of power and speed to the backfield.
Dyapp and Matias Lujan might not be the biggest duo, but they are capable of catching the ball in traffic as well as stretching defenses.
“With those kids being juniors and seniors now and adding a few things, I’m really excited about where our offense is heading,” coach Giles said.
As it is in small-school football, many of those same players will be counted on to give the defense some teeth. While it allowed just over 20 points per game in 2018, opponents scored 180 points in the Lobos’ three losses (twice to Estancia and once to Bloomfield).
Coach Giles said turnovers hurt the team in the regular-season matchup against Estancia (a 46-6 loss) and Bloomfield (a 71-21 score), but the playoff loss to the Bears was much easier to explain.
“They just flat beat us,” coach Giles said.
With a more experienced squad and 10 games in which to prepare for the postseason, the Lobos hope their opponents will be the ones saying just that about them.
This is the first in a 12-part series on the Tour of Northern New Mexico football programs.
Today: Escalante Lobos
Saturday: West Las Vegas Dons
Sunday: Las Vegas Robertson Cardinals
Monday: Pojoaque Valley Elks
Tuesday: Los Alamos Hilltoppers
Wednesday: Capital Jaguars
Thursday: Taos Tigers
Aug. 18: Santa Fe High Demons
Aug. 20: Española Valley Sundevils
Aug. 21: New Mexico School for the Deaf Roadrunners
Aug. 22: Santa Fe Indian School Braves
Aug. 23: St. Michael’s Horsemen