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Roswell fumbles dream away

Roswell’s Cade Manzanares (34) fights off a Belen defender during the second quarter of the Coyotes’ Class 5A State Semifinal game against Belen in Belen on Saturday. (David Rocha Photo)

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All season long the Roswell Coyotes football team has shown a resiliency to overcome adversity and mistakes. Not today. What happened to the Coyotes wasn’t supposed to happen, not after everything they had overcome all game long to get in position to win.

What happened to the Coyotes with 1:24 left in the game and driving the ball to the Eagles 18-yard line left all Coyote fans immobilized. To lose this way not only left the Coyotes crying, but some of their parents as well. Roswell fans and players too as all were stunned, and shocked to the point that they could not believe what they had witnessed. The last play of the Coyotes season would hand Belen a 27-20 victory at Eagles Stadium on Saturday.

“The story of the ballgame is mistakes,” a teary-eye Lynn said. “We had three turnovers and they had one. We had the ball on the 20-yard line and throw the interception, and then on the first drive out of halftime we fumble on our 15-yard line, and they go in and score. And obviously, the turnover on the last possession. We turned the ball over three times, and that’s why we lost.”

The Coyotes defense bent and at times broke, but never gave up and forced a punt when they needed it in the fourth quarter. Their defense came up big stopping Belen’s Diego Casillas short of a first down with 6:44 left to play. Belen punted the ball and on the punt, the Coyotes ended up getting a personal foul on the punt return and pushing them back to their 28-yard line.

“We knew it was going to be a slugfest with Roswell,” Belen coach Greg Henington said. “I could tell, by the way, they got off the bus. We were able to run the ball against a very tough defense.”

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With 5:49 left to play the Coyotes moved the ball. On their first play, they pitched it to Gabriel Najar for a 13-yard gain. On second down they gave it to him again for 3 yards. Senior quarterback Michael Ponce was held for no gain. On fourth-down Daniel Sosa picked up nine-yards for a first down. After picking up the first down, Belen took a timeout.

With the ball on their 37-yard line, Ponce threw an incomplete pass. On the next play, Najar ran the ball for two yards. On third down, Ponce ran the ball for two yards. Roswell coach Jeff Lynn took a timeout. On fourth-down, Ponce tried to pass the ball, but with all of his receivers covered, Ponce pulled the ball down and tried to run for the first down. Belen converged on him, knocking him out of bounds in front of their sidelines and five yards short. It seemed the game was over, and the Eagles would get the ball back. The line judge called Belen for holding giving Roswell a first down and 10 additional yards.

With 3:44 left in the game and the ball on Belen’s 44-yard line, Jasia Reese fumbled a pitch out. Coyotes offensive lineman Auggie Lucero fell on the ball making it second down and 26 from their own 45-yard line. Ponce took the snap and launched a pass down the right sideline toward Dylan Tucker. Tucker was covered by an Eagle defensive player, but managed to out jump the defender and came down with the 50-50 ball, picking up 21 yards.

“I never, never thought we were out of the game,” Najar said. “We were always in the game. I’m just glad I gave it my all, and my teammates gave it their all with me. That’s all I care about.”

The Coyotes picked up the first down and began to methodically milk the clock. On the next play Ponce hit Najar out of the backfield on a swing pass for 10 yards. Roswell moved the ball to the Eagles 18-yard line, and the it happened. There was a bad exchange between the quarterback and center as Belen recovered the fumble. The Eagles lineup in victory formation with 1:24 left in the game.

“I told my team that I was proud of them,” Lynn said. “I told them they played south side football today. They had each other’s back, and they never quit. We had them on the ropes in the fourth-quarter, and we thought we could wear them down. It just didn’t happen for us.”

Michael Ponce was 13-16-1-198 yards. Dylan Tucker had six receptions for 117 yards; Gabriel Najar had three catches for 49 yards and a TD; Daniel Sosa had three catches for 29 yards; Brandon Perez one catch for four yards. Rushing: Sosa 4-23 yards; Perez 6-2 yards, Ponce 9-9 yards; Jasia Reese 10-31 yards, Najar 21-95 yards and one TD.

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