RIO RANCHO – St. Pius Sartans football team overcame a deficit in the third quarter and outlasted the Aztec Tigers on Saturday in a final out-of-district game for both teams in a 27-24 slugfest at the community stadium of Rio Rancho.
The Sartans, led 18-14 late in the third quarter after a 20-yard touchdown by Tristen McNeal gave the Tigers the lead, took command later in the game thanks to quarterback Alejandro Sapien and one of his three touchdown passes on the night.
Sapien’s 7-yard strike at Dominic Esparza gave the Sartans a 21-18 lead they would never have given up en route to a third straight victory.
Sapien threw his first touchdown late in the first quarter after both teams traded opening shots that resulted in punters.
Sapien found Chris Coash for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 5 minutes left in the first quarter, then extended his lead early in the second quarter when running back Marco Ybarra scored from 8 yards to give the Sartans a lead. from 14-0.
The Tigers rebounded before halftime, eventually taking the lead in the third quarter after scoring 18 unanswered points.
Landan Frost threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Marcquis Henry to reduce the Sartans’ lead before Frost’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Tristen McNeal put the Tigers within 2 points of the lead.
Of the Tigers’ two touchdowns in the first half, the extra point attempt was unsuccessful, with the Sartans leading 14-12 at halftime.
“The mistakes in the kicking game are my fault, it’s my fault and we have to fix them,” Tigers coach Eric Stovall said.
The Tigers came out strong in the third quarter. McNeal’s second touchdown of the game put Aztec in front of 18-14 after another failed attempt on an extra point.
“He’s just an amazing athlete,” Stovall said of McNeal, who has been instrumental in the Tigers’ offense this season. “He’s playing with just amazing leadership and attitude.”
The Sartans, however, fought back after the two teams traded possessions in the third quarter. Sapien’s scoring pass to Esparza gave St. Pius a 21-18 lead in a game that featured jumps on both sides.
“Defensively we played really well, I think limiting what they could do,” said Stovall. “We made good adjustments and played well against a very good, well-trained team.”
Sapien and Coash teamed up again with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter for a goal tie, this time from 23 yards to take the lead to two scores and a 27-18 lead.
The Tigers, again, would not come down without a fight. In the final three minutes, Aztec closed the gap after a touchdown from Frost’s Zane Markel put them in a touchdown. Once again, PAT’s attempt failed leaving the Sartans with a 3 point lead.
The Tigers attempted a back kick, which was recovered by Coash at the 42-yard line, allowing the Sartans to miss the time limit and hold onto the win.
St. Pius (4-2), who opened the season losing two of his first three games, is now in the middle of a three-game winning streak as he prepares to face Bernalillo on the road to kick off his district season.
Aztec falls to 1-5 on the season, having lost four straight games with their only home win in Week 2 of the season against Montezuma-Cortez. They will open the District 1-4A campaign on the road Friday night in Shiprock.
The district title race will be intense, with Kirtland Central finding its rhythm after a 63-14 loss to Gallup on Friday night while Bloomfield suffered their first road loss of the season at Valencia 34-21.
“The parity in our district is very even,” said Stovall. “Bloomfield has only one loss and Kirtland Central is very talented. We can play with anyone in the district and I think based on that game we have a real indicator of how we can compete. in the district. “
Steve Bortstein can be reached by email at [email protected], via Twitter @DTSBortstein or by phone at (505) 635-2680