A bruising 80-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter, another old-fashioned rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter and a big interception late in the game made for a big 22-18 come-from-behind win for the Roswell Coyotes Friday night.
It appeared for the second week in a row at the Wool Bowl that the team with the last possession might win the game.
Down 22-18 with about two minutes to go, Los Lunas junior quarterback Nick Gaerlan, who scrambled all night, threw deep over the middle. The ball went off the hands of the Tiger receiver and was intercepted at midfield by Roswell senior free safety Robert Sedillo, effectively sealing the victory.
The Coyote defense made several big plays, holding No. 2-ranked Los Lunas to six points in the first half.
“I thought our defense played well,” said Coyote head coach Jeff Lynn. “Give them some credit, they came back out in the second half and made some adjustments at half and kind of caught us with some things. Fortunately, later in the game, we were able to adjust. I’m super proud of our defense. They carried us tonight.”
The Coyotes played without junior quarterback Ethan Valenzuela, who suffered a season-ending injury in last week’s 42-15 loss at Hobbs. Senior Michael Ponce has been moved from the backfield to the QB position.
“When you consider the fact that we had five starters that didn’t play tonight and a backup quarterback, to go down 18-14 in the fourth quarter there and to persevere and pull it out, I’m super proud of my kids tonight,” Lynn said.
Workhorse running back senior Gabe Najar said it was a big win, as the Coyotes improved to 2-1 before facing Belen on the road next week. Los Lunas dropped to 3-1.
“We did pretty good. We lacked a couple things, but that’s just something we need to fix in practice,” Najar said. “We played very good tonight. I like how we did today, all the players on defense and offense played an all-around good game today. It’s a really good win.”
Los Lunas got on top quick on its first possession as Gaerlan threw deep from his own 37-yard line to junior wide receiver Cody Vocu, who broke away from his defender along the sideline until he was brought down at the Coyote 2-yard line.
On second and goal from the 1, Gaerlan punched it in for a touchdown to make it 6-0 Los Lunas with 6:50 left in the first quarter. The Coyotes blocked the extra point kick.
The teams traded punts on their next possessions, although Roswell came out on top in field position, starting a drive from their own 43-yard line.
On second and short, Najar broke through a big hole for a 20-yard first down, as time wound down in the first quarter, with Los Lunas still up 6-0.
On the first play of the second quarter, Najar scored a touchdown sure to make the Coyote season’s highlight reel. On third and 9, Najar got jammed in traffic on the right side near the line of scrimmage, but then broke tackles and rolled counter-clockwise to his left into the open field for a 30-yard rushing touchdown that tied the score at 6-6.
“I was just saying ‘Keep going, just keep going until I go all the way and hear that whistle blow’ was all that I was thinking,” Najar said.
The successful extra point kick made it 7-6 Coyotes.
The momentum began to swing the Coyote way when Roswell kicked off. Tiger senior returner Joel Avila did not call for a fair catch and was leveled by sophomore Dominic Nava, as Avila lost the football and Roswell recovered along the sideline.
Roswell threatened to put more points on the board after Najar took a screen pass, and shed tackles, and plowed ahead for a big first down.
But on second and goal at the Tiger 10, senior running back Brandon Perez got tied up running to the left side and fumbled, as Los Lunas recovered the football.
Late in the second quarter, Los Lunas converted on a fourth down and later faced another key fourth down after Gaerlan showcased his quickness and scrambling ability, at times seemingly daring the Coyote defenders to close in for the tackle before he’d dart to the outside.
Lynn said the Coyotes knew about Gaerlan’s quickness.
“We knew he was elusive and a scrambler,” Lynn said. “He’s a good player and we hit him pretty good at times. And he’s a pretty tough kid, too. He hung in there and did a good job.”
On fourth and 13 at the Roswell 27-yard line, Gaerlan attempted a screen pass, but Najar, playing defensive end, swatted down the football to end the drive, as the half ended with Roswell up 7-6.
The Coyotes put together an 80-yard time-consuming drive to open the second half and extend their lead.
A kind spot on a fourth down QB keeper by Ponce and a successful measurement on another fourth down QB keeper by Ponce kept the drive alive.
On second and 7 at the Tiger 21-yard line, senior running back Daniel Sosa scampered on the left side, broke a tackle, and was brought down at the 2-yard line.
On first and goal, Najar ran it in off the right tackle for his second touchdown of the game, to make it 13-6 Roswell with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
The extra point kick was almost blocked, but split the uprights to make it 14-6 Coyotes.
Najar said he knows he’ll be called upon this season for clutch carries.
“I am glad of it,” Najar said. “I’m just doing my job hoping that everyone of our 11 players does his job too. It’s just not me out there either. It’s 11 players.”
Lynn said the drive was impressive.
“That drive coming out of half, I don’t think we’ve had a drive like that,” Lynn said. “That was like a seven-minute drive, like 14, 15 plays. The execution on that drive was excellent. The time of possession, that’s how we’re going to have to play. We’re going to have to control the time of possession, we’re going to keep our defense off the field. Offensively, play field position, just play old-fashioned football from this point on.”
The Tigers bounced back on their next possession on a 74-yard touchdown drive. After a 22-yard scramble, Gaerlan again eluded the Coyote defense after being hit near the line of scrimmage, but broke through the pack for a 21-yard touchdown run to make it 14-12 Roswell. Gaerlan scrambled again on the two-point conversion, but was tackled short of the end zone.
The Coyotes were unable to muster a sustained drive on their next possession, and punted, downing the ball at the Tiger 1-yard line. On the final play of the third quarter, from their own 1-yard line, Gaerlan kept the football on the left side and broke into the open field for a 64-yard run as time expired in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Gaerlan faked a handoff and ran to the outside all alone, for a touchdown to put Los Lunas back on top, 18-14. Sedillo blocked the extra point kick.
Los Lunas picked off a pass from Ponce near midfield as the momentum appeared to swing to the Tigers. But the Coyote defense bore down, as Coyote senior defensive end Christian Sanchez sacked Gaerlan on fourth down for a critical turnover on downs.
Roswell started a drive from their 31-yard line with 7:14 to go, but was stopped and forced to punt.
The Coyote defense came up big again, stopping the Tigers on a fourth down play for another turnover on downs.
Roswell started the game-winning touchdown drive from their own 38-yard line with 3:34 remaining.
After a 25-yard run from sophomore Jasia Reese, the Coyotes were in business in Tiger territory.
On second and 4 from the 29, Reese took the football on a counter play, found a big hole on the left side, and ran untouched into the ed zone for a touchdown that made it 20-18 Roswell with 2:39 left.
Ponce kept the football on the option play and ran it in for the two-point conversion to make it 22-18.
Los Lunas threatened again, but the interception by Sedillo ended the drive.
Roswell ran out the final two minutes of the game, pounding away with Najar. The Coyotes turned the ball over on downs with 15 seconds to go at the Tiger 20-yard line.
On the last drive by Los Lunas, Gaerlan threw deep, but Reese picked off a pass to seal the win for the Coyotes.