Gridiron Warriors come up just short

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The Hope Christian Huskies jumped out to a big lead against Socorro on Saturday at Milne Stadium in Albuquerque, then fended off a late Warriors rally to hold on for a 21-14 victory.

Hope looked ready to play for their homecoming crowd as it returned the opening kickoff to their 47-yard line, then converted a long fourth-and-ten conversion to hop out to a 7-0 lead just more than five minutes into the game. The Huskies relied heavily on sophomore running back Nate Salazar during the drive, and he punched in the game-opening score from the six yard line.

The ensuing Socorro possession resulted in a punt, and it might have been an early indicator pointing to the offensive struggles it would face for most of the evening.

But the Warriors’ defense rebounded after allowing the early touchdown, and senior cornerback Adam Paz intercepted a John Jenson pass at midfield to halt a Hope drive.

The next Warriors drive ended after sophomore quarterback Tyler Crespin was sacked on a fourth and five, but Zeb Esquivel picked off another Jenson pass on the very next play.

After the teams traded possessions, Hope found its way down to the Socorro 44-yard line with fewer than three minutes left in the first half, and looked poised to punch in another touchdown. But the Warriors’ defense forced Huskies senior running back Skylar Martin to cough up the ball, and Socorro ran out the second quarter clock content to head into the locker room down just seven points.

The opening second half offensive series proved to be a disastrous one though, and after Jenson picked off a Binger pass, he connected with senior wide receiver Garrett Howington for a huge gain. A late hit on the Warriors set Hope up with first down from the Socorro 15, and Salazar ran in his second score on the day a few plays later to extend the Huskies lead to 14.

With just less than two minutes left in the third quarter, Jenson scrambled his way to the six yard line and powered the ball past the goal line two plays later. His knee appeared to touch the synthetic turf well before the ball passed the goal line, but the play was ruled a touchdown and Hope led 21-0.

Anyone who pays close attention to Socorro football though, know Esquivel is a touchdown scoring machine and it’s difficult to hold him down for an entire 48 minutes. Twenty seconds after the Huskies scored their third touchdown, he reeled off a huge gain to the Hope 39 yard-line. He eventually walked into the end zone from three yards out, and the lead was cut to 21-7.

But things started to look grim for Socorro when Huskies sophomore defensive back Nate Stein intercepted a pass that glanced off the fingertips of Socorro junior tight end Ethan Smith with 5:50 remaining in the game.

The Warriors failed to convert on another fourth down play from deep inside their own territory, and Hope had a first down at the Socorro 28 with 3:38 left in the game.

But the visiting team showed it still had some fight in it, and the final two minutes were about as interesting as a football game can get.

The Warriors’ defense kept Hope out of the end zone despite having their backs against the wall several times in the game’s waning minutes.

On Socorro’s next possession, Crespin hit Smith and Paz with long passes to get the Warriors deep into Huskies territory, and Esquivel tacked on Socorro’s second touchdown with just five seconds left in the contest.

The lead was just 21-14, but Socorro was faced with pulling off one of the sport’s most unlikely plays, the onside kick. But Binger executed the kick flawlessly, and the boys in blue gave themselves one last chance to tie the game with four seconds left.

The Warriors’ rally came up just short though, as a pass intended for Paz at around the Hope 15-yard line was knocked away by Huskies defenders. In an instant the game was over and Socorro had fallen to 3-2 on the season. Hope improved to 2-4 overall.

Some positive news for the Warriors is their next four games will be played at home, including next week’s homecoming contest against Taos.

Kick-off is slated for 7 p.m.