Amidst all the craziness, it was largely silence that surrounded Aaron Ocampo on Thursday night.
At the moment of truth for Ocampo’s Centennial Hawks, on a fourth down from the Las Cruces 14-yard line and Centennial trailing 41-35 at the Field of Dreams, Ocampo, the Hawks’ head coach, knew what play he wanted to run.
But as he floated the idea during a timeout, there wasn’t much feedback coming from his assistants.
“It was silent,” Ocampo said Friday afternoon. “I’m like, ‘C’mon guys, what do you think?'”
What happened following the timeout resulted in what was easily the play of the year (supplanting, in my mind, that crazy Clovis-Albuquerque High finish from several weeks back) and, under the circumstances, probably the comeback of the year.
On that fourth down, Centennial quarterback Ian Lopez, in the shotgun, handed off to running back Mikah Gutierrez, who began to move to his right. He pitched it to slot receiver Isaiah Abeyta, who had started back toward the formation.
Meanwhile, Lopez slipped off to the left, uncovered and seemingly unnoticed. Abeyta, with his gloved right hand, pulled up and lofted a 14-yard touchdown pass to the open Lopez with 14 seconds to go to tie the game 41-all. With Johnathan Umphress’s PAT, Centennial had pulled out an unforgettable 42-41 victory.
And so capped Centennial’s epic comeback from 41-14 down midway through the third quarter, and a win that puts the Hawks on the cusp of the 3-6A title and a first-round playoff bye.
For the former Manzano coach who has been involved in some mind-bending finishes in his career, many with the Monarchs, a couple of them at Centennial, this one, too, warrants a forever memory burn.
“Every moment is kind of unique,” he said. “And they’re all fun.”
THE SILVER LINING: Among the football-playing schools in New Mexico, few of them seem as isolated as the Silver Colts.
The Colts, a Class 4A program, several years ago had to be placed in a district with a handful of 5A schools because there weren’t any other 4A schools for them to play anywhere near Silver City.
This season, Silver is in a 4A district that includes Lovington, Portales and Ruidoso, making this the most spread-out football district in the state. Lovington traveled about 720 miles, round trip, on Friday, to play in Silver City. The Colts next week will travel roughly 800 miles to play at Portales.
“Honestly, I think we’ve just learned to roll with the punches,” first-year Silver coach Jerome Ortiz said. “We got put into one of the toughest districts I’ve ever seen, and even if I were the Lovington coach or Portales coach or Ruidoso coach, I would put all four of us as top teams in 4A. It’s crazy.”
Ruidoso is the closest to Silver City, at about 235 miles away.
Silver’s geographical situation, however, is what makes the Colts’ saga so different.
“The best thing we’ve all come up with (in the district) is a neutral site, but that takes money away from your school,” Ortiz said. “It takes away the benefit of having a home game. It’s not fair to either team.”
It is not yet known how Silver will be placed for the next two-year realignment and classification block. That will be known in early December.
BALANCING ACT: Cibola sophomore receiver Marcus Wilson’s plate has been full this fall.
He has been an important receiving weapon in the Cougars’ passing game, but he also is playing basketball for A.B.C. Prep, a new local academy. To that end, Wilson is bypassing his 2021-22 high school basketball season at Cibola to play at A.B.C. Prep.
Many days, the 6-foot-3 combo guard completes football practice at Cibola before hitting the gym.
“The most important thing is maintaining strength and making sure I don’t get injured,” he said.
As to why he is skipping a hoops season at Cibola, Wilson said: “Because I figured it is better for me, the competition … is going to be great, to see where I am at as a basketball player.”
The 4-4 Cougars’ season has been a grind, having lost to 6A’s top three ranked teams in the coaches poll – Cleveland, Rio Rancho and La Cueva – plus 5A power Los Lunas.
“What people don’t understand,” he said after a loss to Cleveland, “is that our football team is battling some injuries. Hopefully in these next couple of games we’re gonna turn it around.”
THIS AND THAT: At halftime of the Oct. 28 showdown between St. Pius and Albuquerque Academy at Nusenda Community, Albuquerque’s three mayoral candidates – Tim Keller, Manny Gonzales and Eddy Aragon – are scheduled to participate in a punt, pass and kick competition. Keller and Aragon are St. Pius grads. Gonzales had three kids attend and graduate from St. Pius.