LOS LUNAS – The Los Lunas Tigers came within a touchdown of claiming their first state football championship, but ultimately came up short as visiting Roswell prevailed 25-19 in the Class 5A state championship game on Saturday afternoon.
No. 1 seed Roswell (13-0) finished the season as New Mexico’s only undefeated team, and beat No. 2 Los Lunas (10-3) in the final for the second straight year.
“I thought our kids battled,” Tigers coach Jeremy Maupin said. “Even on the errors, we had some big plays. We had some mistakes but like Bryce Santana fumbled and he comes back the next series and strips the ball from them. Really proud of our guys and the effort today.”
The Tigers struggled mightily early on, turning the ball over three times in the first quarter, which slowed their momentum.
However, the Los Lunas defense was up to the task and was able to limit the damage, holding the Coyotes to 10 points off of those turnovers.
Roswell scored its touchdown on fourth-and-goal as Joel Sanchez caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to put the Coyotes up 7-0. With 35 seconds left in the quarter, the Tiger defense held and forced a field goal, which Sanchez converted from 28 yards out to make the score 10-0.
Los Lunas’ offense finally got some momentum in the second quarter when quarterback Kade Benavidez and Joel Hernandez connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass to make the score 10-6. An an errant snap prevented the extra point attempt with 10 minutes left in the quarter.
The Tigers got another touchdown near the end of the quarter as running back Derek Chavez took the ball in from 13 yards out. But once again the Tigers had trouble with the conversion, and carried a 12-10 lead into halftime.
On the first drive of the third quarter, the Coyotes put together their most complete drive, capping it off with a 40-yard flea flicker pass from Sanchez to Jasia Reese to take a 17-12 lead with 10:03 left in the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Tigers struggled to generate much positive momentum offensively with Benavidez battling through a pair of injuries suffered earlier in the contest.
Roswell eventually gained a two-score cushion late in the fourth quarter, on an 8-yard touchdown pass to Angel Caballero. With the 2-point conversion, the Coyotes led 25-12 with 4:44 to go.
Los Lunas wasn’t willing to lie down, however, and put together its quickest, most effective drive of the game. Santana’s touchdown run cut the deficit to 25-19 with 3:29 remaining.
Roswell recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt, but the Tigers defense was able to get a stop and get the offense the ball back with a little over a minute to go.
Los Lunas got past midfield before things started to stall. Benavidez took a sack on second down, and with 19 seconds left, spiked it on third down to set up a fourth-and-15. Roswell dropped back into a prevent defense that had the safeties playing inside the 5-yard-line.
Benavidez saw his final pass intercepted.
“I know we didn’t finish like we wanted to but I’m really proud of the way they battled and fought and took our game plan and ran with it,” Maupin said. “They trusted us and believed in us, we just ran into a really good football team. They’re undefeated for a reason.”
Los Lunas – appearing in its third state final since 2012 – came into the game not feeling any pressure, Maupin said, because the Coyotes were the No. 1 seed and trying to stay perfect.
Roswell beat the Tigers twice last year and twice more this season.