Hawks outlast the Warriors

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For the second time this season, the Socorro Warriors were one final play away from tying up a closely contested ball game, and for the second time they came up just short in the waning moments.

Photo by Jonathan Miller/El Defensor Chieftain: Damian Baca rushed for 104 yards on 16 carries on Oct. 20 against Centennial. The Hawks squeaked by the Warriors 28-21.

The Class 4A Centennial Hawks scored a touchdown with eight seconds left in Friday night’s game to squeak by Socorro 28-21. Earlier in October, the Warriors fell to Hope Christian by a touchdown when they couldn’t complete what would have been a miraculous comeback with four ticks left on the clock.

Despite the non-district loss, the boys in blue have plenty to be proud of. They took a 14-7 halftime lead and hung with a deep, athletic Hawks team that may have a future Division I-caliber athlete at quarterback in Quevin Redding.

“They’ve got speed. They really hurt us with the quarterback run,” Warriors head coach Damien Ocampo said. “We knew they were going to hurt us with that. He’s not only a great passer, but he’s a great runner. I think it’s so hard when you have a quarterback threat running because it adds a gap to the defense. Basically, it makes you be perfect up front, and obviously we weren’t perfect.”

While they may not have been perfect, the Socorro defense was probably at least hovering around it in the first half of Friday’s contest in holding the normally high-powered Centennial offense to just seven points.

With just more than two minutes left in the first quarter, Adam Paz and Tyler Crespin kick-started the Warriors’ offense when they connected on a 55-yard touchdown pass to take an early lead. The Hawks answered four minutes later when Redding found Jonah Gallegos from eight yards out, but Socorro reclaimed the lead when Paz and Crespin hooked up on a second scoring pass, that time from 12 yards out. Paz ran in a two-point conversion with a minute left in the first half to give Socorro a 14-7 lead, then he picked off a Redding pass 34 seconds later to ensure a Warriors halftime advantage.

“We played pretty good defensively in the first half,” Socorro safety Zack Binger said. “It’s hard to replace guys, but people stepped up.”

Binger was referring to losing standout running back and safety Zeb Esquivel to a knee injury in the second quarter when he couldn’t get over the top of a low tackle by Hawks cornerback Steven Rojas.

“It kind of hurt us when we lost Zeb,” Ocampo said. “We had to move one of our corners to safety.”

The loss of the junior was felt early in the third quarter when Centennial needed just six plays to march down the field and knot the game up at 14 when Redding scored on a keeper. The Hawks then started to churn out yards on the ground, tiring the Socorro defense and keeping the Warriors’ consistent offense off the field.

“They knew the run was working on us and they weren’t busting anything big, but three yards at a time, it’s hard to get a stop,” Binger said. “It chews up time, it chews up drives.”

And the visiting squad from Las Cruces continued to do exactly that as they ate up most of the quarter, and then topped it off with a 20-yard touchdown strike from Redding to Andres Chavez with 1:51 remaining in the third. Centennial had a 21-14 lead.

But much like it did in the Hope game, Socorro showed its resilience and refused to throw in the towel. With Esquivel out and down a score, Warriors running back Damian Baca took matters into his own hands on the next Socorro possession as he reeled off three consecutive huge runs and helped his team work its way inside the Hawks’ three-yard line. Crespin finished off the drive with a game-tying touchdown scamper, and with 6:43 left in the game Socorro was in business.

“When you’re battling at the end against a good team like that, it makes you feel good as a coach knowing the kids got some fight left,” Ocampo said. “They’re pretty resilient.”

Unfortunately for the Warriors though, the 6:43 they left on the clock was almost exactly how much time Centennial needed to score a game-winning touchdown. The Hawks used another heavy dose of Redding on the ground, and two Socorro face-mask penalties didn’t help their own cause. Facing a fourth and goal with 10 seconds left, the visitors from down south opted not to kick a field goal but instead turned again to their elusive quarterback.

Redding punched the ball in to give Centennial a 28-21 lead with eight seconds left in the game, and then a last-ditch Warriors effort was stuffed when Paz was tackled at midfield.

Baca finished the game with 104 yards on 16 carries, while Esquivel added 74 yards on 12 carries. Crespin was 2 of 3 for 70 yards passing, and Paz had 105 yards of total offense and his two receiving scores, plus 60 return yards. Ignocio Chavez and Dominic Montano led the defense with nine and seven tackles, respectively.

The loss dropped Socorro to 4-3 on the season while the Hawks improved to 3-2.

Spin it any way you want though, this year’s team is playing past its expectations and showing the competition it will never roll over for an opponent.

“We showed that if we put together four (good quarters), we can hang with anyone on the state,” Binger said. “This game, we didn’t put together all the quarters like we saw in the first half. In the first half we put together two good quarters and it showed. They were good. We’ve just got to learn from this, keep putting quarters together and getting better.”

And while a loss is never a good thing, the Warriors can take both solace and pride in knowing that so far this year they’ve followed up their two previous losses with a win in their next game.

“These guys have always responded,” Ocampo said. “They’ve got fight to them. There’s no doubt about that. I can’t fault the kids at all. They played their hearts out.”

Socorro will open up District 3-3A play on Friday when it plays host to Hot Springs. The Tigers will enter the contest with a 1-7 record. Kick-off is slated for 7 p.m. at Warrior Stadium.