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2000 RHS championship relived

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Rob Lovato with an interception during a playoff game against Farmington in 2000. (Submitted Photo)

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In 2000, during Rob Lovato’s Roswell High School football career as a player, some of the players were suspended after the district playoffs. Lovato’s playing time increased on defense as he played middle linebacker during the championship run.

The Coyotes didn’t go undefeated that year, they lost to Hobbs, El Paso Franklin, and to Carlsbad, but ended up going 10-3. All of their losses were non-district. That year was the first year of District 4-5A. Roswell stayed at District 4-4A.

Lovato says the team was loaded with 23 seniors and had a stacked junior class. He felt the key to the team was their core of wide receivers. They weren’t lightning fast but they could get open and catch the ball. 

Many think the team was built around running back DonTrell Moore, and he was a big part of the offense, but Lovato feels like the offensive line was vastly underrated. Lovato noted the offensive line was mean, nasty, and could take over a game physically. Guys like Ryan Roberts, who was a good tackle; Josh Yates, who was a very physical guard; Josh Downs was the center; with Matt Martinez as a guard; and Derek Baca was the other tackle. Lovato feels like they were extremely physical and came off the ball. Roswell was a balanced team, mixing the run with the pass. 

The turning point of the season came when Roswell lost to Carlsbad, 28-14. The game was a showdown between two of the best running backs in the state, Carlsbad’s Travis Gates and Roswell’s Moore. At their Wednesday practice during their off week, the team ended up getting after each other. The team all said to each other, they weren’t losing anymore. Roswell was 3-3 at the time and went on a seven-game winning streak to finish 10-3.

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“It was the most physical practice we had ever had,” Lovato said. “There were some words exchanged and we got physical. It was the toughest practice we ever had. It was best against best, and first-team against the first-team. We settled our differences and made sure everyone was ready to play the rest of the year.”

After that practice, Roswell’s senior class decided they were not going to lose their rivalry game against Goddard and after an intense week of practice, the Coyotes won the game 51-6. Roswell drew a first-round bye and played Farmington in the quarterfinals, winning 50-7. In the semifinals, Roswell defeated Oñate 29-13.

In the championship, Roswell trailed 31-7 against Piedra Vista with six minutes to go in the third quarter. On the next possession, Coyotes’ quarterback Manny Fuentes threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Abel Espinoza to make the score 31-13. The next time Roswell had the ball, Fuentes threw a TD pass to tight end AJ Cisco. The Coyotes converted a two-point conversion on a Fuentes-to-Cisco pass to make the score 31-21 in the fourth quarter.    

The next key play of the game was when the Panthers drove the ball to the Roswell 15-yard line and went for it on fourth-and-two. Piedra Vista tried to run a power play up the middle but was stopped by Roswell linebacker Jose Barreto and their defensive line.

After the stop, Moore had two big runs and Fuentes threw a touchdown pass to Jose Chavez as the Coyotes scored to make the score 31-27, with four minutes left in the game. The Panthers were driving on Roswell when Moore came up with another interception in the end zone to stop the drive.

Roswell had a big catch by Phillip Candelaria to help them get down the field. Another catch was made by Chavez at the Panther’s 1-yard line. That catch set up a TD pass from Fuentes to Espinoza as RHS took a lead, 35-31. Piedra Vista didn’t quit and was driving the ball when Roswell linebacker Stephen Childress tipped the ball and defensive back Espinoza intercepted the pass to give Roswell their first title since 1988.

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