The Monarchs were stretched to their physical and emotional limits by La Cueva in the Class 6A championship game, but No. 1 Manzano nevertheless capped a perfect season, beating the second-seeded Bears 14-7 in a tough, tight, dramatic state final Saturday afternoon before an overflow crowd of about 6,000 at Wilson Stadium.
“We did something great here today,” Monarchs coach Chad Adcox said. “It’s pretty surreal.”
Not until a La Cueva pass fell into the end zone on the last play did Manzano (13-0) secure its first state football championship. The school opened in 1960.
“Speechless,” said Monarchs wide receiver/running back Andrew Erickson.
It was Erickson, on one of Manzano’s patented jet sweeps – a play the Monarchs frequently go to, and usually with success – who went 48 yards for the tie-breaking touchdown with 4:17 remaining in the fourth quarter to break a 7-7 deadlock.
“It’s a staple play for us,” Adcox said. “It’s a tough play to defend.”
Erickson sprinted from the far side toward the formation. Quarterback Jordan Byrd put the ball in Erickson’s belly, and he continued along, getting key blocks from tailback Xavier Ivey-Saud and receiver Jack Blankenship before cutting upfield and going along the near sideline.
“One of those plays that if you execute it well,” said Ivey-Saud, who rushed 21 times for 107 yards, “it’s hard to stop.”
La Cueva (11-2) still had a chance to perhaps get into overtime.
Byrd and the Monarchs were trying to run out the clock late, but on a third-and-6 from the La Cueva 37, and with the Bears having exhausted their supply of timeouts, Byrd inexplicably ran out of bounds on a keeper. After the Bear defense got a stop on fourth down, La Cueva regained possession at its 35 with 34.4 seconds left. Had Byrd not gone out of bounds, there would have been time for one La Cueva pass.
Instead, it led to the Bears getting about five or six extra plays, and a last-ditch heave from sophomore Austin Smith – the fifth different La Cueva athlete to take snaps at QB – into the end zone.
It fell to the ground.
“That was everything we had,” La Cueva coach Brandon Back said of his team’s overall effort. “We came up a couple of plays short.”
All the scoring occurred in the second half.
Manzano went 66 yards on eight rushing plays for the first points. Byrd, on a keeper, sprinted 41 yards for a TD with 4:17 left in the third quarter. With Nolan Salazar’s PAT, it was 7-0.
La Cueva mounted an impressive, 4½-minute, 12-play, 80-yard drive early in the fourth quarter to square things.
Dylan Summer – a surprise starter at QB for the Bears since he had a torn ACL in his right knee, which was heavily taped and braced – guided La Cueva down the field with a series of short- and medium-range passes. He was 6-of-6 on the drive, which ended with Summer throwing an 8-yard scoring pass to Grant Giesler. The PAT by Dominic Camacho tied it 7-7 with 7:40 remaining.
On the ensuing, ultimately game-winning drive, Manzano had it third-and-8 at its 22, but a pass interference call on La Cueva proved costly. Four plays later, Erickson scored.
“That was the hardest game I ever played,” Erickson said. “Their defense was amazing.”
The Bears’ only two losses this season were to Manzano, both by seven points.
“That’s a hell of a team,” La Cueva defensive end Ryan McClain said of Manzano.
While the Bears’ defense was terrific, their offense stumbled, especially in the first half when it twice got inside the Manzano 10 only to come away empty on both trips. Blankenship, who had a key TD reception last week in the semifinals, blocked a 25-yard field-goal attempt on the game’s opening drive with the tip of his left hand.
Early in the second quarter, with the football at most a couple of inches from the white line, La Cueva fullback Derek Loidolt took a direct snap, but came up just short of the goal line before fumbling it backwards on a fourth-down run.
“Man, it was a tough one,” said Byrd, who rushed 22 times for an even 100 yards. “It’s unbelievable. But I believed in these guys that we could push through adversity, and we did.”
Saturday — Wilson Stadium
No. 1 MANZANO 14, No. 2 LA CUEVA 7
La Cueva 0 0 0 7 — 7
Manzano 0 0 7 7 — 14
Scoring—Third Quarter, 4:17: M, Jordan Byrd 41 run (Nolan Salazar kick). Fourth Quarter: 7:40, LC, Grant Giesler 8 pass from Dylan Summer (Dominic Camacho kick); M, 4:17, Andrew Erickson 48 run (Salazar kick). Records: M 13-0; LC 11-2.
First downs: LC 14; M 13. Rushes-yards: LC 27-85; M 47-265. Passing: LC 18-29-2—212; M 3-9-0—59. Total offense: LC 307; M 324. Punts-avg.: LC 5-33.4; M 6-34.7. Fumbles-lost: LC 2-0; M 0-0. Penalties-yards: LC 3-25; M 4-25.