Home Sports Local Sports Goddard defeats Piedra Vista 20-10 in playoff opener

Goddard defeats Piedra Vista 20-10 in playoff opener

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Goddard’s Robert Aragon (2) runs for the first score of the game Saturday against Piedra Vista at the Wool Bowl. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)

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It’s hard to imagine a football team more eager to take the field than the Goddard Rockets must’ve been Saturday, when they squared off against the Piedra Vista Panthers at the Wool Bowl in the quarterfinal round of the 5A state playoffs.

Goddard’s Sammy Zaragoza (9) keeps the clock moving with a big gain Saturday at the Wool Bowl against Piedra Vista. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)

The Rockets, who entered the contest at 8-2 and ranked No. 2 in 5A, had a bye in the tournament’s opening round last week, giving them two weeks to think about their last game — an emotional loss to their crosstown rivals, the Roswell Coyotes. It was time to turn the page.

The Panthers entered the contest at 8-3 (ranked sixth), ready to play as well, and on top of their game, having thrashed Highland 55-15 in a first round playoff match-up on Nov. 8.

Ultimately, the Rockets were just more ready — to take the field, to put a few points on the board, to register big stops on defense. To play football.

They defeated the Panthers 20-10, advancing to the semifinal round of the playoffs next week.

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It was a defensive struggle from start to finish, and both teams had to overcome turnovers. Afterward, Goddard head coach Chris White spoke to the contest’s physical nature.

“I thought Piedra Vista was an extremely physical football team,” White said. “We expected that by watching them on film. Coach (Jared) Howell does a great job. … It’s two very similar styles of football. … I would have liked to have played a little cleaner, but I think in a hard-hitting game like this, the ball comes out sometimes, you saw it on both sides. … I was real proud of our kids’ effort.

“Obviously, I’d like to play better, but it’s football, it is what it is.”

It was a beautiful day for a game. The temperature was inching toward 60 degrees as the 1 p.m. kickoff approached.

Goddard won the toss and deferred, putting their defense on the field to start the game. It was a good call. The unit that’s been a team strength all season for the Rockets forced the Panthers to punt on their opening possession.

The Rockets took over on their own 18 and started things off with a bang as Rion Lee broke off a 50-yard run into Piedra Vista territory. But a couple of plays later, the Rockets fumbled and Piedra Vista recovered, giving the Panthers a first and 10 on their own 25. That put the game back in the hands of the Rockets’ defense, which held the Panthers to a three-and-out.

After the punt, Goddard’s ball-control offense again advanced onto Piedra Vista’s side of the field.

Facing a second and 16 on the Piedra Vista 29, Robert Aragon hit Nate Stone with a pass that set the Rockets up at the Panthers’ five, first and goal.

The Piedra Vista defense stiffened, forcing Goddard into a fourth and goal from the three. Aragon ran the ball into the end zone on a keeper, giving the Rockets the first points of the game at the 11:56 mark of the second quarter. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, it was 6-0, Goddard.

With 8 minutes to go in the half, the Rockets — facing a third and 22 on their own 25 — experienced a turn of events that encapsulated the rough-and-tumble game. Aragon lofted a pass that was picked off by a Piedra Vista defender, who returned the ball a few yards and then promptly fumbled. The Rockets recovered right back where they’d started, on their own 25 — this time with a first and 10.

But a few plays later, the Rockets turned the ball over, losing a fumble to the Panthers, who weren’t generous enough to again give it right back.

Piedra Vista drove the ball into the red zone with under a minute remaining in the half, and managed to add a field goal by Jack Thompson with 3.1 seconds left on the clock to narrow the gap. The half would end with the Rockets up, 6-3.

Most of the third quarter would come and go before either team added points. With 1:36 remaining in the third, Piedra Vista would take the lead on a touchdown pass from Cameron Swarts to Aiden Ackerman, making it 10-6, Panthers, a score that would hold until the end of the quarter.

On the Rockets’ next possession, they’d retake the lead, as Lee outraced the Panthers’ defense to the pylon, diving into the end zone to make the score — after a two-point conversion — 14-10, Goddard. An Aragon keeper with 1:44 left in the game, followed by a missed two-point attempt, would stretch the Rockets’ lead to 20-10, the final.

Afterward, Howell and his coaches shared an emotional moment with their players on their end of the field. “It’s the worst part of the job, saying goodbye to your kids,” he said. “We love them, we’re proud of them, thanked them for everything they’ve done for the program. They’ve upheld the values and the traditions.”

The Panthers’ season ended on the Wool Bowl turf Saturday. The Rockets, now 9-2, move on, facing Los Lunas — who beat Artesia in their quarterfinal match-up Saturday — in the semifinals next week.