Prep football: Rio Grande proudly looks ahead now that skid is over

Aaron Pavia

Four years and two days.

Before Thursday, that was how much time had passed since Rio Grande High School had won a football game.

Then came Rio Grande 38, Valencia 22, and the end to a grueling, emotionally taxing 39-game losing streak.

And on Friday, as the Ravens trekked to campus, they agreed on an impromptu dress code: Raven red jerseys. The ones they had on their backs on Thursday night. This was a special day for the team, for Rio Grande, and for the South Valley as a whole.

“Pretty big deal this time,” Ravens quarterback Aaron Pavia said Friday.

“It was a long streak, and we broke it. We just wanted to show everyone around the school that we’re proud to be Ravens.”

The state record for consecutive losses (43, set by Albuquerque High in 2014) was fast approaching. Not only were the Ravens eager to avoid any part of that comparison, but to a man, they were as sure as their second-year head coach, Dennis Minidis, that the streak would be halted this year.

And sooner rather than later.

“This is not the same Rio Grande football program,” said Minidis, 67.

This message was repeated through the offseason, preseason camp and into the season opener against Highland – a game Rio Grande let slip away with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens jumped on Valencia early and had the luxury of savoring the final few minutes as the clock melted to zero.

“It was jubilant,” said Minidis, a Michigan native who has been an assistant coach at St. Pius, Del Norte and at Rio Grande. “We were on the sidelines, and there wasn’t a dry eye, for all of us. It was a tall mountain to climb. (But) I knew it was coming. I knew it was imminent.”

Not since Sept. 4, 2014, had the Ravens won a game.

“It was a great feeling,” said senior running back Hans Malubay, who scored a

pair of touchdowns in the victory. “Since the beginning of the season, we knew it would end sooner or later.”

There hadn’t been many serious chances to end the streak since that 38-20 victory over Highland four years ago. Two close calls came against Albuquerque High, one at the end of that 2014 season, another last year.

In 2015, Rio Grande gave up 10 points for every one it scored. The next year was the worst stretch of football, the Ravens having been outscored 512-38.

Minidis came aboard after the 2016 season, and said he believed he could change the culture at Rio Grande. He was given a cold Gatorade bath on Thursday.

“They have a strong desire to succeed,” Minidis told the Journal not long after accepting the job last year. “And our job is to help them reach those goals and once again become a competitive football team.”

Minidis wanted to foster the type of environment that would produce good student-athletes and citizens, first and foremost – and a team that was willing to put in the work and, in a way, embrace the challenges.

“Our coaches, they believed in us and we believed in them,” said senior Cruz

Bolivar, who plays a handful of positions for Rio Grande, including receiver, cornerback, linebacker, kicker and long snapper.

Added Malubay, “They’ve been teaching us about adversity, mental toughness, keeping good grades.”

Bolivar on Thursday had the bonus of being part of halftime’s homecoming festivities. “That was nothing,” he said, “compared to finally breaking the streak.”

This crop of seniors were in the eighth grade in September of 2014. The Ravens are competing as an independent this year and next.

But for the first time in a while, Rio Grande has a chance at a winning streak, which would be their first since 2009. The Ravens play West Mesa Saturday at Milne Stadium.

“It was one of the most satisfying things that’s ever happened,” Pavia said his and the team’s mood Thursday. “I didn’t know how to react at first. Everyone was just joyful.”

So where does the season go from here?

“We’re capable of anything,” Pavia said. “We just like to keep this moving, keep our foot on the pedal and keep working hard.”