Here’s how the No. 1 team in Class 6A football remained undefeated:
With Jordan Byrd a nonfactor for most of the first two quarters, and on the sideline — after being knocked out of the game — for most of the final two quarters.
OK, to be fair, that was only part of the narrative. Two terrific defensive stands at the end of the game probably didn’t hurt Manzano, either.
Class 6A’s top-ranked Monarchs raced out to a three-touchdown lead at halftime, but it was Manzano’s stellar defense that truly carried the night, stopping two La Cueva drives inside the 20 in the final 4 minutes to preserve a tenser-than-expected 28-21 victory over the second-ranked Bears in a District 2-6A opener at Wilson Stadium on Friday.
“Manzano deserves everything they’ve earned,” La Cueva coach Brandon Back said. “They’re No. 1 for a reason. They are phenomenal on both sides of the ball. There’s a lot of fight on that team, a lot of gusto.”
A huge crowd — in the neighborhood of 4,000 fans — watched Manzano (7-0), on its homecoming night, emerge as 6A’s last undefeated team.
“It’s 1 vs. 2,” Manzano coach Chad Adcox said. “It should go down to the wire.”
La Cueva (6-1) could not complain that it didn’t have its chances down the stretch to possibly tie Manzano or go ahead.
La Cueva was driving at the Manzano 17 with inside 4 minutes to go, but three straight incomplete passes by Bears quarterback Dylan Summer, the last one an overthrow in the end zone, halted that drive.
However, La Cueva’s defense held and quickly got the ball back for the offense with 2:26 to go, this time starting at the Manzano 46.
This drive reached the Monarchs 16, with a third-and-1, but La Cueva was stuffed — and in fact thrown for losses — on consecutive running plays that clinched the victory for Manzano.
On fourth-and-3 from the 19, Manzano senior defensive tackle Deveyion Jackson surged into the backfield, and Bears running back D’Andre Williams simply was swallowed whole.
“We’re a brotherhood,” said Jackson. “We just always stay together, no matter what the score. We’re just gonna keep pushing, and that’s what we did. We got the stop.”
The fourth-down play was a read for Summer, Back said.
“We had a play ready,” Back said. The Bears still had one timeout on that fourth down but chose not to use it. “They came with a defense we hadn’t seen too much of. They had their guys in better defensive (position) than our offensive guys were.”
Said Summer: “It was the right play call. This one was on me.”
Jackson was a timely menace all night for Manzano. He had a first-half sack, and also recovered a first-half fumble that led to a touchdown. The Monarchs’ front largely dictated the first two quarters with their physicality.
To that end, the first half of this game strongly resembled the first half of Manzano’s rout of Rio Rancho two weeks previous.
La Cueva was limited to 37 yards of total offense in the first half, and minus-17 yards rushing thanks to some big sacks. For the game, the Bears finished with just 21 rushing yards — compared with 223 for Manzano, led by workhorse junior running back Xavier Ivey-Saud.
After a scoreless first quarter, Manzano rattled off 21 consecutive points, capitalizing on two short fields for scores.
Ivey-Saud scored on a 14-yard run 2½ minutes into the second quarter, and added a 4-yard run — after the Jackson recovery — for a 14-0 lead with 3:48 left before halftime.
Byrd had been unusually quiet up until then — until a 32-yard burst got Manzano to the La Cueva 20 in the final two minutes. Two plays later, his dazzling speed was on display again on a 12-yard touchdown run and an impressive 21-0 bulge.
La Cueva sprung quickly off the deck on the first play of the second half, a 70-yard TD pass from Summer to Reece Wilkinson. That momentum was short lived, as Manzano marched 45 yards on eight rushing plays to re-establish a 21-point cushion.
It was 4-yard touchdown run by Byrd that was not just the eventual game-winner, but the play that sidelined him for the rest of the night. He appeared to absorb a blow to the head at about the 3 before powering through that tackle and scoring.
Byrd said it was his fall to the ground that caused him to be disoriented, not the hit. He went through concussion protocol and said he passed. Adcox said he decided not to take that risk.
“I would rather have him next week,” Adcox said, a reference to Manzano’s visit to Clovis next Friday night.
Summer threw touchdown passes of 16 yards to Tristan Roswold (with 7.1 seconds left in the third quarter) and 4 yards to Grant Giesler with 7:22 left in the game to cut the deficit to 28-21.
MANZANO 28, LA CUEVA 21
La Cueva 0 0 14 7 — 21
Manzano 0 21 7 0 — 28
Scoring: M, Xavier Ivey-Saud 14 run (Nolan Salazar kick); M, Ivey-Saud 4 run (Salazar kick); M, Jordan Byrd 12 run (Salazar kick); LC, Reece Wilkinson 70 pass from Dylan Summer (Dominic Camacho kick); M, Byrd 4 run (Salazar kick); LC, Tristan Roswold 16 pass from Summer (Camacho kick); LC, Grant Giesler 4 pass from Summer (Camacho kick). Records: M 7-0, 1-0 in 2-6A; LC 6-1, 0-1.
First downs: LC 15; M 14. Rushes-yards: LC 26-21; M 50-223. Passing: LC 15-29-0—256; M 2-8-0—1. Total offense: LC 277; M 224. Punts-avg.: LC 5-33.8; M 8-31.5. Fumbles-lost: LC 2-1; M 2-0. Penalties-yards: LC 3-23; M 5-53.