The Rockets and Coyotes battled back and forth for three quarters Friday night until the cross-town conflict was decided in the fourth quarter, with Roswell running away with a 33-21 victory to win the rivalry for the third year in a row after 14 years of Goddard domination.
Goddard fans packed the west grandstands, at times waving the flashlights of their cellphones across the field to the Roswell fans in the east grandstands, in a nearly sold out night at the Wool Bowl that lived up to the hype.
“Rivalry games are always close,” said Roswell head coach Jeff Lynn. “Every rivalry I’ve ever been associated with, they’re always tight games. There’s a lot of emotion.”
Goddard head coach Chris White said it was a tough loss.
“But I couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” White said. “I thought our boys got up and played as hard as they could play. They responded to a lot of adversity in the game.”
The regular-season finale win improves Roswell’s record to 7-3, 2-1 in district play, and assures the Coyotes of a playoff berth. Goddard fell to 4-6, 0-3 in district play, giving them an outside chance of a playoff berth in Saturday’s playoff bracket drawings.
“If you take the 6As off our schedule, and let us play 5As, you’d be talking about us being a top six or seven seed,” White said. “We could sneak in the playoffs. We’re a pretty decent 4-6 team, some teams we match up better against than others.”
Lynn said the key to victory Friday night was perseverance.
“We just stayed with it,” Lynn said. “We had to overcome a lot of penalties. It was as much turnovers as it was penalties. We had a lot of penalties tonight. Every time we broke a run, it seemed like it was getting called back. That’s what Roswell High football is all about, staying with it and persevering and that’s what the kids did tonight.”
White said Goddard’s football future is bright.
“We wanted to do better this year, but who knows, we might get into the playoffs and if we do, we won’t work any different than we do,” White said. “I feel like we have a bunch of young kids with experience coming back. And I feel like we have some younger kids in our program that are dynamic that will be coming through here.”
The Rockets received the opening kickoff, but on their first series, they turned the ball over when sophomore quarterback Robert Aragon threw an interception to Roswell junior Cade Manzanares.
The Coyotes quickly returned the favor, fumbling the football, as the teams traded turnovers on their opening drives.
“You saw a lot of mistakes out there tonight,” Lynn said. “I think that comes with the emotion in a rivalry game.”
Goddard continued having trouble moving the football on the Rockets’ second possession, as they punted. A near-touchdown punt return by Coyote sophomore Jasia Reese was called back by a penalty on Roswell, which set up the Coyotes at their own 45-yard line with 8:55 left in the first quarter.
After a few first downs, Roswell senior quarterback Michael Ponce dropped back to pass, but instead scrambled out of the pocket for a big first down on third and 15.
The Coyotes had a first and goal at the 9-yard line, but a personal foul penalty backed them up.
On fourth and goal from the 28, Ponce found junior Dylan Tucker in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown pass to make it 6-0 Roswell, capping a 13-play drive. The extra point by sophomore Joel Sanchez was barely good, and made it 7-0 with 2:27 left in the first quarter.
The Rockets were again unable to muster a first down on their next possession and punted.
What would have been a 73-yard touchdown run by Reese was called back because of a Roswell penalty as the first quarter came to a close.
Early in the second quarter, the Coyotes’ drive came to an end when the Rocket defense stacked up senior Gabe Najar on fourth and 6, forcing a turnover on downs.
After taking over at their own 38-yard line, the Rockets got on the scoreboard when Aragon threw a screen pass to senior Tyler Hoover near midfield. Hoover broke a leg tackle and got into the open field for a 52-yard touchdown pass. The extra point from sophomore Jacob Wieser made it 7-7 with 6:19 left in the second quarter.
“I thought our quarterback, Robert Aragon, did a fine job of managing our offense,” White said. “We don’t throw the ball as well as we need to. I’ll be the first to admit that to you, it’s not that we don’t work on it. It’s just not our strong suit and teams know that. I thought we had a good game plan and I thought the kids executed the game plan well. Roswell has a good team and executed well.”
The Coyotes then put together an impressive touchdown drive, starting at their own 31-yard line, utilizing their array of backfield weapons. An offsides penalty on Goddard moved the Coyotes within the Rocket 10-yard line.
On second and goal at the 3, senior Daniel Sosa capped the 11-play drive when he took the rock around the right side for a touchdown that made it 13-7 Roswell, with 2:12 left in the second quarter.
“Our blockers do a really good job,” Sosa said. “Without them, nobody would gain any yards.”
The extra point from Sanchez, backed up to the 15-yard line because of a Coyote penalty, was good to make it 14-7.
The Rockets quickly bounced back on their ensuing possession. On the first play of the drive, senior standout Diego Miranda took the ball to the left side. Miranda was almost tripped up by Roswell junior Justin Carrasco, but he evaded the tackle and ran 62 yards for a touchdown. The extra point from Wieser made it 14-14 heading into halftime.
“He busted that one in the first half on us,” Lynn said. “We just kind of tried to stay back and stay in front of him. That kid’s really good. I’m impressed with (Miranda).”
Roswell got back on top early in the third quarter after taking over at midfield after an unsuccessful onside kick by Goddard. After first down carries by Sosa, senior Brandon Perez and Ponce, the Coyotes were set up in the Goddard red zone.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game, but we came out here and did our jobs,” said Sosa, a senior, whose team has beaten Goddard three years in a row. “It feels really good knowing that we’re the better football team here in Roswell.”
On third and goal at the 1-and-a-half-yard line, Najar took the ball over the left tackle for the first of his three touchdowns on the night to make it 20-14, after a nine-play drive. The extra point made it 21-14 Roswell with 8:30 left in the third quarter.
“I love the hit,” Najar said. “I actually give the hit before they even tackle me. It takes at least three to slow me down and then five to finish me off.”
The Rockets then leaned on Miranda, who carried the ball frequently. A pass from Aragon to Hoover pushed the Rockets across midfield. Miranda then took another pitch, and weaved through the Roswell defense for a 14-yard carry.
“We keyed on Diego because that’s the only player they have,” Najar said. “They couldn’t key on any of us because we like to keep it spread around evenly.”
Five plays later, on third and 1 at the Roswell 9-yard line, Aragon ran a QB sneak into the end zone, as the Rockets scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. The extra point kick by Wieser barely made it in, to knot the score at 21-21 with 5:25 left in the third quarter.
Roswell responded quickly after taking over near midfield and again utilizing their array of running backs in a 10-play touchdown drive.
“Sosa and Perez and Najar, all those kids, they’ve been with us since day one,” Lynn said. “They’re four-year players. That’s what’s great about coaching, you get to see those kids grow up. Those kids have grown up and matured a lot and I’m sure proud. I’m proud of my football team. There’s not very many teams in the state where you can lose your starting quarterback and still persevere and have a 7-3 season and be a top four seed. That’s saying something about our kids.”
On second and 8 at the Goddard 10-yard line, Najar ran over the left guard for his second touchdown of the night, making it 27-21 Roswell with 2:05 left in the third quarter. The extra point kick was blocked by Goddard sophomore Rion Lee.
The game began to sway heavily in Roswell’s favor when Aragon fumbled and junior Xavier Hernandez recovered the football for Roswell. However, the Goddard defense had perhaps its best series of the night when the Rockets stopped Najar on a fourth and 4 near midfield, forcing a turnover on downs early in the fourth quarter.
Goddard, however, was unable to muster a drive and punted when facing a fourth and 16, still near midfield.
A 61-yard punt return from Reese was called back because of a block in the back.
Backed up to their 17-yard line, Roswell put the icing on the cake, thanks to a couple of first downs by Najar and a 56-yard rush by Perez along the right sideline.
“I feel pretty good. This is amazing, man. Three years in a row,” said Perez. “You’ve got to give it to my linemen. They did a hell of a job. I’m just proud of my team.”
On second and goal at the Rocket 8-yard line, Najar run into the middle, then cut back to the left for his third touchdown of the second half, which made it 33-21 Roswell with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter, as Goddard fans headed for the exits.
“I thought Gabe played well in the second half, but he was a little rusty in the first half,” Lynn said of Najar, who sat out last week’s 48-12 win over Lovington due to an injury and had 95 yards rushing Friday night. “Hopefully, we’ll knock that off and we’ll get him moved up and ready for the playoffs.”
The Coyotes attempted a two-point conversion, but Ponce was stuffed on the quarterback sneak.
The Rockets scrambled to score again late in the game, but were hampered, in part, by running two consecutive plays with just 10 players on the field.
“We broke the huddle with 12,” White said. “Just kind of mixed up on formation there. We were talking about protection schemes and stuff going max protection, we changed out of it, but didn’t change our personnel.”
Later in the drive, Aragon was sacked when he held the football so long in the pocket it would have been expired if it had been a loaf of bread.
The Rockets kept fighting though, picking up two fourth down conversions to stay alive.
On fourth and 15 at the Roswell 31-yard line, Aragon completed a pass to sophomore Hunter Beene over the middle, but Beene was stopped short of the first down with 53 seconds remaining in the game.
Roswell took a knee to expire the clock and walk out with the 33-21 win in the regular season finale.
Lynn said Roswell prides itself on its complex offense and array of weapons.
“We try and be inclusive at Roswell High,” he said. “We try to keep kids in the program. I think our depth has something to do with us winning. We’re able to two-platoon on both sides of the ball. We don’t really give one guy the ball more than 10, 15 times a game, we spread it around. I think that has something to do with it. We try to keep everybody involved.”
White said the turnovers didn’t help, but his kids ran hard.
“All I can say is it’s a great group of kids,” he said. “I’m proud to coach them, as a coach that’s all you can ask for. That’s the kind of effort you can win in life with and I’ll take that to the bank.”
Sosa said the Coyotes, who played at the Wool Bowl for the third week in a row Friday night, are looking forward to a bye next week.
“We’re looking forward to a bye so some guys can rest up and get back to how we can play,” Sosa said. “We’re hoping to get that bye for a top four seed.”
Perez said he thinks Roswell can beat Artesia in the playoffs, if the two teams square off again in the playoffs. Artesia beat Roswell 42-7 two weeks ago at the Wool Bowl.
“I think we have the talent to beat them,” Perez said. “We’ve got to stay humble and not let our heads get too big. We’ve just got to go out and ball like we should.”
“We’ll definitely move forward on this,” Najar said. “It will be good when we get into the playoffs because it’s just a whole other level from there.”
Sports writer J.T. Keith contributed to this report.