Warriors players heading onto the field with flags raised as they focus on a semifinal matchup on the road against the Robertson Cardinals.
Geg Byrd | El Defensor Chieftain photos

A one-loss team traveled to face off against a two-loss team in the semifinals of the 2021 NMAA State Football Championships. When the final whistle was blown on November 20, both teams had two losses as the Robertson Cardinals ended the Socorro Warriors’ season with a 38-29 victory.

“The win feels great,” Robertson head coach Leroy Gonzalez said. “That team we played today had a ton of playmakers. Looking at film we were really concerned with trying to contain number 22, 23, 80, across the board there was a lot of talent we were up against today. What they do on offense is not what Robertson normally plays against so we had to build an umbrella and force them to do one play at a time drives. Hats off to them. They’re a great ball club to compete against.”

During warmups, senior team captain Moises Castillo was pumping up the Warriors in the huddle, yelling “Are you ready! Will you quit!” before the opening coin toss. Socorro got the ball first and started things off with a methodical first drive that included several QB play action runs by junior Marcus Armijo with senior Adadrian Jackson making a sweet 15-yard catch to go up 6-0 early.

Adadrian Jackson trying to find separation in the open field off a screen pass

Robertson responded quickly. Sophomore wide receiver Mateo Contreras has a huge 40-yard catch and finishes off the drive by snatching a jump ball in double coverage in the end zone to tie things up 6-6. Both teams failed to make their extra-point attempts.

The Warriors’ penalties and mistakes began to pile up with senior Jordan Armijo having multiple huge runs called back due to holding and illegal block in the back calls. The first was a big 40-plus yard kickoff return being called back. The next play Marcus Armijo had the ball punched out for a fumble which had the Cardinals driving at the end of the quarter.

The taller Contreras once again scored quickly by outjumping the Warriors in the end zone to make it 12-6. Socorro responded with a long 30-yard grab by junior Damien Greenwood that resulted in Jackson punching it in. A 13-12 lead for the Warriors had the teams heading to the locker room at the half.

The Cardinals received the ball to start the second half and had a huge play early with quarterback Kenneth Montoya tossing a laser throw to the right corner to put them up 20-13. The Warriors did not have the ball back for long on its next drive, with Matthew Gonzales making a big interception and following it up with two straight quarterback keeps putting Robinson up 28-13 after a two-point conversion.

Players began to express frustration on the Socorro sideline, as time was running down, until sophomore Alex Amaro makes a huge touchdown catch, bringing it to a one-score game to end the third. Coaches were going up and down the sidelines yelling to their players “This game ain’t over!”

Jordan Armijo doing what he can to escape the suffocating Cardinals front five.

Contreras gashed the Socorro defense once again to make it a two-score deficit. Robertson’s defense added insult to injury with a safety to make it 38-21. The Warriors kept the game within reach as junior Brian Armijo recovered a fumble with eight minutes to go. Then the mistakes that cost a big play early for Jordan Armijo came back again. Jordan had a huge 50-yard diving touchdown that ignited the visiting crowd which was negated by a holding call. With the game all but out of reach, freshman Isaiah Ocampo did find the end zone with one minute left which would be the final score as Robertson ran out the clock.

It was all celebrations for the home crowd. Gonzales was at the front of his team as they chanted before their fans.

“We knew this was going to be a tough physical game,” he said. “All we could do today was stick to our game plan. We knew if we could pound the ball tough inside and get our outside athletes in space we would have a great chance to win. Coming out down and scoring on our first drive in the third quarter was key for us.”

On the visiting side of the field, Warriors players and coaches had their final postgame huddle of the season. Loved ones that made the trip up north came on to the field in support of the young athletes. Adadrian Jackson took a moment on the field for himself before embracing his family and now former coaches.

“I just want us to try and be happy,” he said. “Looking back on this season is amazing. Everybody on this team was amazing. We all love and work for each other. The other team today had things go their way, nothing we can do about that. But right now the first thing I think about was the first day of practice this year and how great that was.”

Moises Castillo was also showcasing his leadership, supporting his fellow heartbroken teammates.

Junior Damien Greenwood was one of several Warrior players having a hard time finding space in the open field.

“Regardless of the outcome of the game we played Warrior football,” he said. “We didn’t come out with the outcome we were expecting but each of us played hard. I guarantee you we left everything we had on the field in this game. This was the most evenly matched game I have ever played in and things could have gone either way. Unfortunately, it went their way.”

Head coach Damien Ocampo had a rocky first season in 2017 with a 4-7 record. Since then the Warriors have never lost more than two games, which includes a perfect 5-0 during 2020’s COVID plagued season. He made sure to speak with his players individually after the loss.

“I want to say to everybody in Socorro, thank you for supporting us,” he said. “We have a great program now and we win a lot which is something that didn’t always happen in the past. I’m really proud of all the work these boys put in. We go into every game feeling like we can win. Five years ago we were struggling and now you can ask anybody, this is one of the best teams in the state.”

The 3A State Championship game is locked in for another Saturday afternoon game on Nov. 27. The only two teams to beat Socorro this season are facing off. The St. Michael’s Horseman had a defensive 7-0 semifinal win against Raton and will play at Robertson. It is a three-four ranked showdown.