The boys’ state championship game between Roswell and Los Lunas was everything championship high school football is supposed to be. The weather was nice and crisp with a little wind, but the hitting and play offset the chill in the air as the Roswell Coyotes made a defensive stand with less than 36 seconds on the clock to win their second championship in as many years, 25-19, in Los Lunas Saturday.
“Just the way these kids battled and stayed together,” as a crying Coyotes’ head coach Jeff Lynn said after winning his second state title. “Really the thing I’m most proud of is that these kids are a bunch of brothers and they have a bunch of friends for life. They’re great kids.”
All season long, the defense has been maligned about being a bend-but-don’t-break defense. On Saturday, Roswell’s defense truly turned into a championship defense as they forced Los Lunas’ offense to turn the ball over five times. They forced three turnovers in the first half and came up with a key interception by Freddie Anaya to win the game. Roswell made defensive stops and actually won the game for them.
Roswell had to withstand a blistering come-from-behind attempt as Roswell quarterback Dominic Nava faced a fourth down and 12. Roswell was called for an illegal procedure penalty making it fourth and 17 at Los Lunas’ 29-yard line. Nava dropped back to pass and was sacked at Los Lunas’ 36-yard line with 1:21 seconds left to play in the game. The Tigers started moving the ball and Roswell made a stand at the 50-yard line. It was fourth and 10 yards to go when Los Lunas’ quarterback was rushed by the defense of Roswell in which he threw the ball up for grabs as it was intercepted by Freddie Anaya to seal the win.
“It feels great to win this back to back,” Lynn said. “It’s not about me, but it’s about the kids. They started July 1, and you see the work they put in and here we are Nov. 30. I just wanted it for these boys and the work they put in.”
Roswell had made a stop and went down and scored on fourth down and 6 yards to go at the 8-yard line. Instead of looking for any host of receivers, Nava dropped back to pass and found a wide-open Angel Caballero to make the score 23-12. Instead of kicking the PAT, Nava threw to Jasia Reese in the corner of the end zone to give Roswell a 25-12 lead with over 4:44 to play in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Los Lunas’ quarterback Kade Benavidez threw a long pass to Chris Lucero who was brought down at the Roswell 5-yard line. The Tigers brought in their jumbo package and on the next play gave the ball to Bryce Santana to make the score 25-19 with 3:29 left to play in the game.
To open the game, Roswell held Los Lunas scoreless, on fourth and goal at the 10-yard line, Nava threw a touchdown to Joel Sanchez in the left corner of the end zone to put the Coyotes up as he added the PAT as well to give them a 7-0 with 5:28 to play in the first quarter. Roswell was stopped on downs as Sanchez added a field goal to give Roswell a 10-0 lead.
Roswell seemed to be having their way when the Coyotes intercepted a pass and was running it back toward Los Lunas’ goal at midfield. The Tigers’ Lorenzo Sosa stripped the ball and Andrue Garcia caught the ball out of midair and returned it to the Coyotes’ 11-yard line. Los Lunas would end up scoring to make the score 10-7 Roswell. Los Lunas would score a touchdown right before halftime and lead the Coyotes 12-10 at halftime.
Roswell took the opening kickoff to start the second half and scored when the Coyotes ran a jet sweep with Sanchez and he ended up throwing the ball deep to Jasia Reese to give Roswell a 17-12 with 10:50 in the third quarter.
“They were blitzing their corners,” Lynn said of the flea-flicker that gave Roswell the lead in the second half. “We knew we had that in our hip pocket and it was third and 2 yards to go. We took a shot right there and it worked.”
“It means everything,” Joel Sanchez said as tears fell from his eyes. “Losing this game wasn’t an option for us. I came to this high school to be a state champion.”
Roswell didn’t play to lose, they won the game by being aggressive as Lynn went for a fake punt in his own territory, he allowed Nava to throw the ball instead of playing it safe. And the defense blitzed and took risks. Lynn also went for it on fourth down and was refused.
In the end, the Roswell team won the game.
“I’m super proud of these kids,” Lynn said. “We’ve got a good group coming back next year. The junior varsity was undefeated and we have a good group of juniors. We’re not going to put a lid on this thing, man. We’re going to keep working and keep getting better. It’s like my dad told me when we won a state championship one time, ‘there’s a lot of room at the top but there is no place to sit down.’ That will be our motto for next year. We’ll be back.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.