Football All-Stars put on show in Vegas

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The South only lost to the North three times in the 11 years since the inception of the 2A/3A All-Star Football Game. The last three years have been dominated by the boys in blue as they’ve trounced their northern rivals by a combined score of 95-20 since 2009.

Photos by Jonathan Miller/El Defensor Chieftain: South quarterback Ray Vaiza looks to pitch the football during the third quarter of Saturday night’s 2A/3A All-Star Football Game. Vaiza threw for a key touchdown in the second half.

However, the North team came out of the locker room intense and focused, like it was desperately seeking to prove it could still hang with their southern New Mexican counterparts, and for a good chunk of Saturday night’s gridiron contest in Las Vegas, pushed around the proverbial bully on the block. Unfortunately for the red-clad squad from the North, the South knew just how to push right back, and won 20-14.

In a game with a far closer final score than any since the 2007 game, which ended 7-6 in favor of the South, the 2012 All-Stars came out hot and took a 14-6 lead at halftime.

They struck early on when Dominick Panzy of Dulce hit Hope Christian’s Paul Seaton with a bomb from around midfield to score the game’s first points. Seaton blatantly pushed off Silver City’s Jeff Armijo to ensure the catch, but the field judge decided to let the teams play on and no flag was thrown. The 2-point conversion try was unsuccessful.

On the North’s first offensive possession, Socorro’s Sam Hale threw a pancake block off of the right side to help free Lovington’s Zane Walker, who scampered untouched more than 70 yards to tie the game at 6-6. The South also failed their first 2-point conversion.

The game remained locked up until midway through the second quarter when Dakota Swinehart, of Taos, ran the ball in from five yards out, then completed the drive with a 2-yard scramble to his right to give the North a 14-6 lead.

But then Socorro’s Ray Vaiza took over at quarterback in the third, and Silver City’s Brandon Reese took over the North secondary. Vaiza heaved a perfect 30-yard rainbow to Reese, who skirted the sideline and just got his left foot in bounds. A few plays later, Vaiza hit Reese with another 30-yard pass, this time over the middle, and Reese sped into the end zone ahead of three North defenders.

“Brandon Reese is a hell of a receiver and I’m glad I connected with him,” Vaiza said.

The South was still down by two, however, as their second 2-point conversion failed.

But the South defense stood tall and forced another North punt. On the ensuing possessing and facing a critical fourth-and-short, a “Friday Night Lights” inspired moment developed when Ruidoso’s Sam Williams lined up in the shotgun, dropped the snap, picked the ball up and proceeded to toss an impossibly accurate 20-yard ball downfield to Hale, who was streaking down the left hash on a seam route. Hale caught the ball while mashed in between two North defenders, allowing the drive to continue.

Then on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Hale threw another block off the right end to free Walker up for his second touchdown of the night. Walker went ahead and ran the two-point conversion in as well, and the South had a 20-14 lead with nine minutes remaining.

The North was undeterred however, and on their next possession Devon Casias of Raton grabbed a 40-yard pass to gain them back some momentum. But on the next play Socorro’s Bryce Sandoval forced Swinehart to his right, and Lovington’s Eric Osborne picked off an errant throw toward the sideline.

Tularosa’s Matt Silva ended any hope of a North comeback with his own interception on the North’s final offensive drive.

The All-Star win was the fourth in a row for the South squad, and Socorro football shone bright on a night that featured some of the best players in the state.

“It’s great, especially since it’s an All-Star Game,” said Ibi Maiga, who had a first quarter interception and will continue his football career by attending Eastern New Mexico University this fall. “You’re playing with the best of the best. You don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself.”

Along with Maiga, Sandoval and Hale, Vaiza was part of a Warrior foursome that was integral in helping the South to victory. In addition to his gap-closing touchdown toss to Reese, Vaiza took over punting duty and played a substantial amount of time at safety as well on Saturday.

“It was an honor. It was an honor even getting recognized as a player like that,” he said. “It was a good week. I thought I played good. It was a good way to end it.”