The Socorro Warriors took to the field to face the Hot Springs Tigers for their first game since November 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Mexico Public Education Department and the New Mexico Activities Association allowed the stands to be filled to 25 percent capacity since Socorro County is yellow.
Caitie Ihrig | El Defensor Chieftain

On Saturday, the Socorro Warriors took the field with almost 500 fans who watched them shutout the Hot Springs Tigers 40–0.

“We haven’t played in forever,” Socorro quarterback Nate Fresquez said. “First game back, it was amazing. I had a really good time.”

For Dylan Avalos, being able to play football again is the highlight of his senior year.

“I’m glad that we could play one last time,” he said. “During the beginning of the school year, I was worried that I wasn’t able to play again. Football is just involved in my life so much. I’ve been here with the football team since I was little, infant. I was pretty scared that we wouldn’t be able to play again. When I got the news that we were going to play again, I dropped to tears.”

Avalos was also overcome with emotion as the Warriors took the field on Saturday to kick off their four-game season.

The Tigers received the ball first and after being unable to move it down the field, attempted to punt to the Warriors. The punt was muffed and Socorro started with the ball on the Tiger’s 20-yard line. After Socorro’s Jordan Armijo ran the ball to the 2-yard line, Mike McDaniel ran it in for the touchdown to put the Warriors up 6–0. The point-after-attempt was missed.

Socorro was unable to add more points to the board until there was 3:53 left in the first half when Fresquez ran 14 yards to score. Fresquez then passed the ball to McDaniel for a 2-point conversion attempt, but the pass was incomplete.

“I get the ball, I snap it and there is a wide-open hole created by my linemen that I could fit a VW car through – I saw it and I took off,” Fresquez said. “I made the most out of the situation and the blocks were great. I just ran.”

Socorro’s Marcus Armijo tries to outrun a Hot Springs player during the third quarter of the Warriors 40–0 win on Saturday at home.
Caitie Ihrig | El Defensor Chieftain

Leading up to the scoring play, the Warriors started with the ball at their own 40-yard line and the ball was advanced via running plays from McDaniel and Fresquez. After the touchdown, Hot Springs received the ball back and on fourth-and-25, Socorro’s Caden Moreland tackled a Tiger’s player in the endzone for a safety, putting the Warriors ahead 14–0.

With less than a minute left in the second quarter, Socorro quickly moved the ball down the field after starting at the Tiger’s 40-yard line. After Moreland ran the ball to the 22-yard line, Davon Hardin ran for a touchdown to give the Warriors a 22 point lead.

Socorro received the kick-off to begin the third quarter and the Warriors were able to advance the ball down the field on the next four plays to the 17-yard line. Armijo then received the handoff and ran the ball to the 7-yard line. On the next play, Marcus Armijo caught the ball in the endzone to put Socorro ahead 26–0. The point-after-attempt was blocked by Hot Springs.

To receive the ball back, Socorro’s Orion Rottman blocked the Tiger’s punt which was caught by Adadrian Jackson who ran the ball from the 47-yard line to the 34-yard line. Off of plays from Jordan Armijo and McDaniel, the ball was advanced to the 25-yard line where Fresquez ran for his second rushing touchdown of the game. Kaden Dow made the point-after-attempt to put the Warriors ahead 33–0.

The final points of the game came with less than three minutes left in the third quarter when Jackson caught the ball and ran for the touchdown. Dow made the point-after-attempt to make the final score 40–0.

Hot Springs was close to scoring in the fourth quarter, but Socorro’s defense was able to stop the ball and force a turnover of downs on fourth-and-8.

“It was good seeing at the end of the game where our young kids stepped up and kept them out of the endzone,” interim head coach Al Ocampo said. “That was really positive.”

Ocampo said he has to give most of the credit for the shoutout to his offense as they forced the Tiger’s defense to stay on the field for the majority of the game.

“The kids played really well defense, but our offense played really well too,” he said. “I’ve been coaching a long time and really, the best defense you can have is an offense that keeps the other guys from getting to the ball. I thought our offense did a great job. Especially in the backfield with Nate taking his very first snaps at quarterback.”

While the team accomplished getting a shutout, doing it in front of a home crowd made it even better.

“We are really lucky,” Avalos said. “At one point, they were saying no fans allowed and all the seniors, it’s our last time playing and our parents want to watch us. I’m glad they get to watch us one more time.”

Leading up to the first game, the players were preparing to play in front of empty stands, but that changed Thursday night. At 5:11 p.m. on Thursday, Socorro Athletic Director Alex Johnson received an email from NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez saying that fans will be allowed at games depending on what color the county is. Since Socorro County is currently yellow, outdoor games have a 25 percent limited capacity for fans and fans are not allowed at indoor games.

Johnson then spent Friday figuring out how they could make it work with such a short turnaround. Him along with assistant coach Chris Rottman set up X’s on the bleachers to signal where fans would be allowed to sit to comply with social distancing guidelines. Staci March hung signs around the stadium with the COVID-19 regulations.

Fire Chief Joe Gonzales also went to the stadium on Friday to determine 25 percent capacity and said there could be 720 fans on the home side and 117 on the away side. Each player and coach on both teams received two tickets and then Johnson sent 70 tickets to Hot Springs for other fans who wanted to attend the game.

According to Johnson, 500 tickets were pre-sold on Saturday as tickets were sold to parents from 8–9 a.m. at the district office and to community members from 9–10 a.m. at the high school.

“When all the hard work comes together, it’s really rewarding,” Johnson said. “Just being able to set it up and enjoy it, it was really cool. Just seeing the fans, you could see it in their eyes, it’s not about them, but the fact they could be here added a lot for the players. You don’t normally kick off your season with a game against Hot Springs. It was amazing.”