For the first time in a month, no comeback was required for the Cibola Cougars.
Cibola has been living on the edge in recent weeks, but on Friday night, the sixth-ranked Cougars got off to a quicker start, and extended its lead in the second half as the Cougars held No. 8-ranked Atrisco Heritage to a season low in points in a 36-20 victory in a District 1-6A opener at Nusenda Community Stadium.
Cibola (6-0, 1-0) and Hobbs (6-0) remain Class 6A’s only two unbeaten teams.
And for a change, the Cougars played mostly with a lead.
“It was great,” said junior wide receiver Marcus Wilson, who caught a touchdown pass for Cibola. “We were tired of coming out slow, having slow starts, so coach (Chris Howe) preached fast starts, pedal to the metal.”
Cibola had to overcome deficits in its previous three games against West Mesa, Farmington and Los Lunas.
And although this game was scoreless through the opening 12 minutes, the Cougars found their footing earlier than they have been.
That, Cibola coach Chris Howe said, could be attributed to a new practice regime leading up to Friday, in which he created more urgency at the start of all their workouts.
“We were working on getting a faster start, and we played well throughout,” said Howe. “It was a little rocky at times, but I felt good about the outcome. That’s a good football team.”
Aden Chavez, Cibola’s senior quarterback, was 29-for-45 for 346 yards and three touchdowns — one apiece to Branden Castillo, Brayden Mummert and Wilson. Chavez also rushed for a score, as did Mummert, the tight end, on a fourth-down run that made it 28-7 late in the third quarter.
Along the way Friday, Cibola accomplished something rare: the Cougars had four touchdowns erased by penalty — Cibola was flagged 17 times for 174 yards — but on all four occasions, Cibola overcame that and eventually scored on the same drive.
Meanwhile, Atrisco Heritage (5-2, 0-1) saw its five-game winning streak come to an end. Its previous low in points was in the season opener (36) against Sandia.
Both teams had a scoring chance in a scoreless opening first quarter.
The Jaguars reached the Cibola 26, but a fourth-down pass came up short. On Cibola’s ensuing drive, the Cougars drove to the Atrisco Heritage 17, but three incomplete passes, and then a 13-yard sack by the Jaguars of Chavez ended the Cibola threat.
The first turnover of the game, a fumble by Atrisco and recovered by the Cougars at midfield, led to the first points. Chavez threw 18 yards to Castillo for a touchdown with 8 minutes to go before halftime.
The Jags responded in kind.
Atrisco marched 79 yards for a game-tying score, as new QB Manny Sedillo’s scrambling gave the Jags some life, and he also threw 33 yards to put the ball at the Cibola 10. Two plays later, Sedillo threw to Marquise Renfro, who was completely wrapped up by a Cibola defender at around the 15. But Renfro fought off that tackle attempt, and then motored into the end zone for a 7-7 game with 5:03 left before halftime.
Cibola had a short field after the kickoff, and had only 50 yards to go for the go-ahead score.
On a fourth down from the AHA 2, Chavez rolled left, faked to throw, and then walked untouched into the end zone with 1:22 remaining in the half.
Cibola went up two scores with a 79-yard, 13-play march to open the second half. Chavez threw 2 yards to Mummert for the score.
After a punt, the Cougars went 85 yards on their next drive, ending with Mummert’s TD run.
The Jaguars got as close as 28-14, but Cibola added a safety and a game-clinching TD — a pass from Chavez to Wilson from 8 yards out — to cement the win.
Cibola plays Volcano Vista (5-2, 0-1) next Friday. Atrisco faces Rio Rancho at 5 p.m. next Saturday, also at Community. The Rams (4-2) were idle this week.
CIBOLA 36, ATRISCO HERITAGE 20
Atrisco Heritage 0-7-7-6 — 20
Cibola 0-14-14-8 — 36
Scoring: C, Branden Castillo 18 pass from Aden Chavez (Enock Mbumba kick); AH, Marquise Renfro 10 pass from Dean Marquez (Diego Winnikoff kick); C, Chavez 3 run (Mbumba kick); C, Brayden Mummert 2 pass from Chavez (Mbumba kick); C, Mummert 3 run (Mbumba kick); AH, Andres Villalobos 14 pass from Manny Sedillo (Winnikoff kick); C, safety, running back tackled in end zone; C, Marcus Wilson 8 pass from Chavez (kick failed); AH, Sedillo 4 run (pass failed). Records: C 6-0, 1-0 in 1-6A; AH 5-2, 0-1.
First downs: AH 17; C 27. Rushes-yards: AH 23-112; C 39-141. Passing: AH 21-31-0—251; C 29-45-1—346. Total offense: AH 363; C 487. Punts-avg.: AH 2-31.5; C 1-32.0. Fumbles-lost: AH 4-1; C 0-0. Penalties-yards: AH 14-111; C 17-174.