No 1. Socorro scored 21 unanswered points and then hung on to win with Cobre knocking on the door in a 21-14 thriller at Eddie Castaneda Field as the Warriors won their state quarterfinal matchup against the Indians on Nov. 11.
No team has given the Warriors more fits this year than the “chip-on-the-shoulder” Indians, who were picked to win district and seemed to resent that Socorro was the top-ranked team in 3A football.
“I thought we played so much better than we did against them two weeks ago,” Socorro head coach Damien Ocampo said.
In the first meeting, Socorro came away with a 29-0 win but didn’t move the football well on the ground against the Cobre defensive line.
Despite recording a shutout in their first meeting with the Indians, the Warriors came away feeling like there was unfinished business against Cobre.
“The score didn’t reflect it today, but we ran the ball much better this time around,” Ocampo said. “That’s a big credit to our offensive line because those guys are out there working hard and hustling.”
The Warriors sought to establish the run early, pounded the interior, and tested the outside with quarterback Marcus Armijo and running backs Brain Armijo and Garrick Gutierrez.
Lulled into a run-heavy defense, the Indians were caught off guard when Armijo found Caden Moreland on a 22-yard pass the senior receiver sneaked inside the pylon for the touchdown. The first of Kaden Dow’s three extra-point kicks made it 7-0 with 9:38 to play in the first quarter.
Ocampo was determined to establish the game’s tempo, and the Warriors gave up the balls twice on down rather than punt each time his defense rose to take care of business. It was also a case of taking advantage of what was being put in front of the offense.
“Cobre got out of some of the stuff they were doing. They played up some. They started playing us with high-safety play,” Ocampo said. “When that happens, you need different things to try to take that away. It opened the running game a little bit and took out some of our passing game.”
But the defense wasn’t so tight that Armijo couldn’t find open gaps in the secondary, and the senior signal-caller tossed three touchdowns.
Socorro went on top 14-0 when Armijo found a wide-open Isaiah Ocampo, who beat everyone to the end zone on a 25-yard scoring reception.
Junior cornerback Alex Amaro stopped the Indians’ next drive with the first of his two interceptions and returned the ball to the Cobre 10-yard line, but Dow’s field goal attempt was blocked with one second left in the first half.
The game’s ESPN-worthy play put the Warriors on top 21-0 when Brian Armijo first juked two players and hurdled them while breaking free from a third defender and then lacing through the heart of Cobre’s defense and out-racing everyone 85 yards to paydirt.
Socorro may have held a three-touchdown lead, but nobody was comfortable.
“Our kids stepped up in the late first half. We had a little low, but then we put it together towards the end,” Ocampo said. “We didn’t execute great at times.”
Socorro was hampered by penalties that stalled drives in the first half on offense and advanced Cobre on defense. It wasn’t so much not executing as being afraid another hanky was about to hit the turf and cost the Warriors 15 yards of ground.
Still, there were big plays by the Warriors, with Moreland stopping a drive with a fumble recovery and Armijo’s underhand pass completion to escape being sacked.
The Warriors did hinder their efforts by not protecting the football, and receivers lost the handle a couple of times and gave the ball back to Cobre. Amaro’s second interception was returned for a touchdown that was called back due to a holding call.
The Indians made the most of their second-half chances, and roughing the quarterback calls on the defense helped advance both of Cobre’s scoring drives.
Marcus Armijo’s interception in the end zone stopped Cobre from tying it up, but when the Warriors last drive stalled, the Indians had one last chance.
The last ditch-effort got the ball to the Socorro 27-yard line, but with 11 seconds remaining in play, there wasn’t enough time for Cobre to tie the score.
A Look Ahead
The 10-1 No 4. Horsemen have a 28-20 loss to No 3. Robertson (8-3) on their record, and Saint Michael’s pounded Thoreau 50-0 in their quarterfinal win. Robertson was knocked out of the playoffs by No. 6 Raton, which seems to be the measuring stick for the remaining teams.
Raton has been plagued by injuries but has healed up in time for the playoffs.
The Tigers have narrow losses to all three top teams, but they sent a message with a 23-14 win over Robertson after losing 12-7 in district play.
The Horsemen beat Raton 28-21, and Socorro won on the road against the Tigers 27-14. Based on their strength of schedule and who Raton has beaten, there’s a solid chance they are a state finalist.
Kickoff for Friday’s home game is set for 6 p.m. Friday.