Talk about a season course correction.
Two weeks into the 2019 prep football season, Rio Rancho was 0-2, the defense was under siege, the Rams threw a game away with an epic collapse, and virtually nothing was going right.
Three weeks later, the Rams are perhaps the hottest team in Class 6A football.
Junior Zack Benedict drilled a 47-yard field goal with just over 9 minutes to go, and senior quarterback Isaiah Chavez made one clutch play after another down the stretch as the fifth-ranked Rams (3-2) came back to beat No. 3 La Cueva 24-21 on Friday night at Wilson Stadium.
Virtually every important play on offense, defense and special teams was made by the Rams on this night.
“We didn’t fix things,” Chavez said, referring to the 0-2 start. “We just kind of played our game. We realized that we were better than we are.”
Chavez was a humongous thorn in the La Cueva defense all night with his crafty run-making ability. But the back-breaker for the Bears (3-2) was when Chavez, who appeared to be stopped at least twice, slipped loose from several tackle attempts to run 18 yards for a first down on a third-and-16 with about 5½ minutes left in the game.
“Last year,” Rio Rancho coach David Howes said, “he gets hurt on that run. He fumbles twice. The wheels come off. That kid willed that first down. It’s unbelievable what he’s done.”
Said Chavez: “I knew it was third and 16, and I just fought all the way to the first down, to the promised land.”
The Rams were able to bleed out the final 5:23 of the block largely because of Chavez. But they got the ball back for that drive because of a spectacular interception by sophomore Lucas Lucero in the end zone as the Bears were driving for a game-tying field goal or a go-ahead touchdown.
“He’s been getting burned all year and playing scared and soft,” Howes said of Lucero. “And that kid has taken a beating on film. But that kid stepped up and I’m so thrilled to see what he did tonight.”
La Cueva was at the Rio Rancho 36 when Bears quarterback Austin Smith threw into the end zone. That was the final La Cueva offensive play of the night.
Earlier in the quarter, on the drive after Benedict made it 24-21, La Cueva had a disastrous series. A screen-pass touchdown to Connor O’Toole was erased by a hold. On the next play, a long completion to Brad Thomas was nullified because of another holding penalty. That drive ended in an interception, almost predictably.
La Cueva led 14-7 at halftime on a Tristan Altier TD reception, and a 14-yard TD run by Elijah Locke on what might have been the best hole the Bears’ offensive line has opened this season.
Rio Rancho scored the next 14 points in a dominant third quarter, with Zach Vigil’s 1-yard run and Elijah Smith’s 5-yard run. At 21-14 Rio Rancho, and just 12 seconds after the Rams went in front, Altier caught a short pass from Smith and turned it into an 80-yard score to tie the game late in the third quarter.
Rio Rancho finished with 269 rushing yards.
La Cueva finished with 2, as the Bears continue to be largely one-dimensional on offense.
“We grinded and we fought, and we know what kind of team we have,” said Chavez. “Everyone kind of doubted us, and we’re loving it.”