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QB Isaiah Chavez leads Rams to win over No. 3 La Cueva, 24-21

Zach Vigil (21) was looking for running room last Saturday at Las Cruces, where he was kept out of the end zone. On Friday night at Wilson Stadium, though, he scored the Rams’ second TD on a 1-yard run to tie the game at 14.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Like the commercials for the durable Timex watches, Rio Rancho quarterback Isaiah Chavez “took a licking and he kept on ticking” Friday evening at Wilson Stadium, where he led the No. 5 Rams to an exciting 24-21 victory over third-ranked La Cueva.

Chavez put the Rams on the scoreboard first — thanks to a defensive stand that thwarted a Bears fourth-down play — with a 2-yard touchdown run. Zach Benedict’s point-after made it 7-0, which remained the score heading into the second period.

The Bears (3-2) then scored twice in the second quarter to lead, 14-7, at halftime, with their first TD tallied on their initial possession after Chavez’s run. The second TD came off a three-play drive after Chavez was intercepted in what turned out to be a dismal first half through the air, as he threw for only 9 yards.

Thanks to a short Bears punt giving the Rams (3-2) a shortened field, Chavez led his team on a scoring drive, capped on a 1-yard run by Zach Vigil off the Rams’ “Jumbo” play, behind fullback Deven Dyer. The other Zach added the PAT for a deadlock at 14.

The Rams forced the Bears to go three-and-out, and Chavez guided the Rams — without Vigil for most of this possession after he was hurt and helped off the field — and gave the ball to Elijah Smith, who capped the scoring drive on a 5-yard run to paydirt.

That 21-14 lead, after another Benedict PAT, lasted all of 12 seconds, as Bears QB Austin Smith chucked a quick pass to Tristan Altier, who out-ran the Rams’ secondary for an 80-yard TD strike.

The third period ended with the teams knotted at 21.

Benedict had two chances at field goals in the fourth quarter, nailing a 47-yarder with 9:18 left in the game for what turned out to be the final points, then later missing wide-right on a 37-yarder.

The Rams’ D and Chavez combined to do the rest, with Lucas Lucero picking off a Smith pass in the end zone, followed by the Rams keeping the ball for the final 5:23. Chavez carried the ball, including three kneel-downs in victory formation, eight more times — and was nailed by a Bear on the penultimate play of the game, costing La Cueva 10 yards and giving the Rams their final first down of the game.

Vigil had 85 yards on 22 carries for the Rams; Chavez wound up with (unofficially) 147 yards on 20 carries and knew he’d probably be black and blue on Saturday.

“I’m definitely going to feel it, but I love the way (we won),” he said, having been helped off the field after being picked off and leveled late in the first half.

“It’s what we have to do to win — and I’m going to do anything for my team to win,” Chavez said.

Naturally, coach David Howes was happy with his team’s second win in seven days by five or fewer points.

“(The Bears) were doing a great job of shutting us down; they played great defense in the first half,” he said, crediting the Bears. “We talked about keeping our composure, and the kids did that.”

The Rams’ off week couldn’t have come at a better time, for Chavez, Vigil and lineman Darrius Gregory, also helped off the field with a leg injury, to rest for the 1-6A opener on Oct. 4.

“It’s perfect timing, definitely,” Chavez agreed of the off-week.