The Goddard Rockets knew going in that they would be “moving on” after this game.
Next come the playoffs, and both the Rockets and their opponent — the crosstown rival Roswell Coyotes — have their tickets punched, so to speak, thanks to outstanding performances thus far this season.
But there are different ways of “moving on.” Sure, there are big games still to come for the Rockets — but parts of this game will stick with everyone involved for a long time, perhaps the rest of their lives. The game was not just a big deal to the players and coaches, and their families and friends, but to the entire city.
It isn’t every Friday night the first-ranked (Rockets) and second-ranked (Coyotes) teams in the state, located in the same town, play their regular season finale — an intense rivalry game in any year — with this level of bragging rights on the line.
Nor is it every Friday night the eyes of the state’s football-following community turn so intently to one place. On Friday, Nov. 2, Roswell was Football City, New Mexico.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, it was their rival Coyotes who must be feeling like they were just elected mayor of Football City. Roswell came out on top, 24-21, dealing the Rockets their first loss of the season.
Now the Rockets have to look ahead to the playoffs, and head coach Chris White has confidence in his squad.
“It’s a hard-fought game,” White said of the contest against Roswell. “… I feel good about where we’re at. We’ll see where the (playoff) seeding and all comes out — but I still feel like the best team in the state wears blue. That ain’t going to change.
“We’ll go back to work and we’ll get better. That’s what we do.”
The teams arrived at this high-profile point in the season by taking similar paths: Some of the ups and downs teams face every season — but mostly, dominating football. Goddard, entering the contest at 8-0-1, hadn’t lost a game. They handled Artesia 31-28 in their last contest and in the three weeks leading up to that game, their average margin of victory was 27 points.
The Coyotes, coming in at 7-2, had fallen only to Hobbs, in an early-season stunner, and Artesia on Oct. 19 in a game decided by a single point, 36-35. Other than those aberrations, they’ve played lights-out football and left opponents reeling.
Friday night, Goddard would win the coin toss and defer to the second half, choosing to kick off to the dangerous Coyotes to begin the game — putting faith in a defense that’s been, in many ways, the team’s rock the entire season.
Roswell came out on fire, running a hurry-up offense and driving the ball rapidly downfield. The opening drive stalled, however — the Roswell attack ground to a halt with a fourth and 17 on the Goddard 37. The Coyotes went for it on fourth down, but came up short, allowing the Rockets to take over on their own 32.
A few plays into the drive, however, a Rockets’ shovel pass was intercepted, giving the ball back to Roswell in excellent field position, on the Goddard 35.
The Coyotes would capitalize on the turnover, finding the end zone first as Justin Carrasco ran the ball in for a touchdown, making it Roswell 7, Goddard 0 with 5:09 remaining in the first.
The Rockets would return the Coyotes’ kickoff to their own 39, then work their way into scoring position. With 1:51 left in the first, quarterback Dalton Bowles ran the ball in for a touchdown, knotting the score at 7-7.
In the second quarter, the Coyotes had an excellent chance to build a lead, finding themselves with a third and goal at the Goddard one-yard line. But the Rockets’ defense proved why their coaches showed such faith in them to begin the game, holding fast on third down — then finishing off an epic goal-line stand by keeping Roswell out of the end zone on fourth and goal.
The Rockets took over on their own one-yard line, facing a long field. But runs by Bowles and Robert Aragon ate it up in chunks. Bowles would scamper in for another score with 5:56 left in the first half, giving the Rockets a 14-7 lead. When Goddard kicked off, the Coyotes fumbled the ball, allowing Goddard another shot at the end zone — but the Roswell defense held, forcing a fourth down that the Rockets couldn’t convert.
Roswell would take over on their own 31, and score again with 46 seconds left in the half, leaving the score tied at 14 as the teams headed for their locker rooms.
After halftime, the Coyotes kicked off to the Rockets to begin the third, but the drive was over quickly when a Rockets receiver fumbled at the Roswell 44 and the Coyotes recovered.
Roswell’s Dominic Nava would haul in a touchdown pass with 5:40 left in the third, giving the Coyotes a 21-14 lead.
After getting the ball back, the Rockets would again pull even, finding the end zone with 1:15 to go in the third and tying the game at 21-all. Then came one of those big plays that can feel like a turning point: When the Rockets kicked off, the ball bounced off a Roswell defender and Goddard recovered — but the Rockets couldn’t capitalize, and wound up being forced to punt a few plays later.
The Coyotes took over on their own six and the Goddard defense held fast, forcing a three and out and giving their offense excellent field position — starting a drive at the Roswell 40, after the ensuing punt. But the drive stalled. Facing a fourth and one on the Roswell 12, the Rockets weren’t able to convert as the Coyotes’ defense stepped up.
Taking over on their own 12, Roswell drove down and kicked a field goal, making it Roswell 24, Goddard 21 with 1:50 left in the game. The Rockets returned the kickoff to their own 30, and found themselves facing 70 yards of field to tie or win the game.
But it wasn’t to be, as Goddard lost a fumble with only 1:07 left in the contest. The Coyotes recovered and ran out the clock.
Goddard, now 8-1-1 — and the Coyotes, now 8-2 — can sit back, if only for a moment, and await their opponents as the playoffs get underway.
But move on? Not likely. Friday night’s game will stick with both.