Going a full season without a win is a pretty difficult thing to imagine.
Walking off the field with a loss game after game for more than three seasons is downright unthinkable.
For the Santa Fe High School football team, those downtrodden trudges – 35 in a row – turned into a riotous celebration Friday when the ball spun through the goalposts for a game-winning field goal as the stadium clock read “00:00.” The Demons beat host Española Valley 23-22.
“It was just another game in terms of emotions,” Santa Fe coach Andrew Martinez said. “I try to separate the kids and the coaches from anything else.”
That’s pretty good coachspeak but, well, it might not quite be reality as the Demons put an end to the streak that hung like a pall across the program.
Martinez, in his second season, freely admitted that he and the coaching staff put too much emphasis on the streak last season, desperately hoping to send the seniors off with one moment of glory.
But it was not to be and the program took a different tack this season, ignoring the pachyderm in the locker room and instead focusing on improvement.
It was fairly evident pretty quickly that this was a different squad with a different mentality, Martinez said.
The Demons played Moriarty in a tough 20-12 loss the week prior in a game that really could have gone either way.
“We knew we were playing better,” Martinez said. “We knew we had an opportunity the previous week to win. I think they got some more confidence from that. They really felt (last) week that if they could put some things together and clean up some mistakes, we would have a shot to win a football game.”
Of course, the Demons couldn’t get a win without some drama at the end, beyond just the field goal. On the previous play, when quarterback Luc Jaramillo scrambled for a first down at the eight-yard-line, the clock was not stopped, although the officials indicated it should, and time ticked away.
After a five-yard penalty for illegal formation, junior Tilman Conway lined up for his second-ever field goal attempt. His only other attempt, last season at Los Alamos, was smothered before he even had a chance to kick it.
“It was first field goal I ever kicked in a game,” Conway said. “I’ve kicked extra points, but not a field goal. On top of that, the fact of how much pressure was on me, there was a lot of pressure going through my mind. I used a technique the coach taught me to ground myself: think of the three things you’re grateful for in life, and then you can understand the stress and realize it’s okay.”
Conway also tried to focus on the fundamentals.
“Kicking is all about form,” he said. “You can kick the ball as hard as you can, but if you don’t have good form, you’re going to hit the line or something like that. I know, I’ve done that. I’m sure I didn’t kick it as hard as I could have. I did focus on form a lot.”
But he never had a chance to watch the historical kick clear the crossbar.
“I didn’t even see it go through,” Conway said. “I felt the ball connect on my foot and saw the ball going up and then people started jumping on me and then I was in a dog pile. It was exciting that we were able to pull that off together as a team.”
Lineman Andres Rodriguez said he couldn’t watch the kick.
“It was almost slow motion,” he said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh God, oh God, we better make this.’ As soon as the ball was snapped, I was so nervous, I didn’t want to look at it the kick. But as soon as I heard everybody screaming and yelling, I knew that we won.”
Sundevils head coach Miguel Medina, who was the Demons offensive coordinator last season, visited the Santa Fe locker room post game, shaking the hands of every player and coach in congratulations.
“He came up to us, respectfully,” Rodriguez said. “It wasn’t much of a special event, but it was very respectful on his part. It was a really good, classy gesture.”
Now that the streak is done, the Demons are ready to move on as a program.
“… Before this, it was really about focusing on the past,” said Conway, who also plays defensive end and running back. “And the past is not good. That streak is over with and in the past, and now we can see into the future and we can be thinking about what we can do and not what we have done.”