Gridiron Warriors sprint past Hot Springs

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After a close loss to a good Centennial team on Oct. 19 and looking ahead to the District 3-3A opener with Hot Springs, Socorro head football coach Damien Ocampo said he thought the Warriors and the Tigers, believe it or not, were about even.

Jonathan Miller/El Defensor Chieftain: Adam Paz had 250 total yards and seven total touchdowns for Socorro on Friday night as it defeated district rival Hot Springs 60-48.

That may not have added up at the time, given that Hot Springs was 1-7 at the time and its lone victory had come against Class 2A Lordsburg. But for the first quarter of last Friday’s game against the Tigers, Ocampo looked like he was right. Hot Springs utilized its option game and a speedy, veteran quarterback in Natavidad Villa to take a 14-7 first quarter lead over the home team Warriors.

Socorro senior running backs Adam Paz and Damian Baca used to final three quarters to put any of those doubts to rest, and they did so in an almost ridiculous fashion.

Paz rushed for 148 yards and six touchdowns on 18 carries, then added 82 yards and another touchdown receiving to pace the Warriors en route to a 60-28 win over the visiting Tigers. Baca threw in 239 rushing yards of his own, along with two touchdowns, to help propel Socorro to a vital league victory. The Warriors improved to 5-3 overall and 1-0 in district play.

And they did it all without the help of Warriors standout Zeb Esquivel, out with knee injury, who had been an offensive juggernaut for Socorro this season.

“It’s pretty natural that we have to step up,” Paz said of him and his backfield teammate Baca. “If someone goes out, we can’t just hover over what’s going on. We have to come and be like, all right, someone’s out, now it’s time for someone else to step up and take leadership again.”

And that is precisely what the senior duo did.

Paz struck first for the home team when he reeled in a 15-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Tyler Crespin with six minutes and 50 seconds left in the first quarter to give Socorro a 7-0 lead.

Villa and company struck right back though when he pitched to Brandon Rael on an option toss from the Hot Springs 15-yard line, then sprinted past the Socorro defense for 85 yards to cut the lead to 7-6 with 6:21 left in the first quarter. The extra point was no good.

After the ensuing Warriors offensive drive stalled, Villa ran in an option keeper from 55 yards out and the Tigers snuffed the momentum right from Socorro.

Cristian Rojas converted the 2-point try to give Hot Springs a 14-7 lead, and Socorro was left scrambling for answers.

“We knew coming into it they were a good team,” Paz said. “We thought that they were kind of going to run away. We all had a talk with the lineman, and told them, ‘All right guys, we’re better than this. We’ve just got to step up and go out there and play.’ Sure enough, they came out.”

After the Tigers’ second touchdown, the Warriors looked like they’d had enough of being on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

After Rojas scored, Baca found a seam on Socorro’s next possession and reeled off a huge run down to the Hot Springs one-yard line. Then Paz scored his second touchdown from three feet out with 11:30 left in the first half, and little did the visiting team know him and Baca were just warming up.

After forcing another Tigers punt, Baca busted a 69-yard touchdown run to the left side to make the score 19-14, and Paz added a 25-yard scoring run five minutes later to extend the Warriors lead to 27-14.

Then, with 36 seconds left, Crespin found tight end Ethan Smith for a 33-yard gain over the middle to eventually set Paz up with a 4-yard TD run, his fourth score of the game, at least to that point.

After a successful Zach Binger extra point attempt, Socorro led 34-14 heading into the locker room at halftime.

In the second half, Paz added touchdown runs of two yards, 45 yards and four yards, and with 6:20 left, Socorro led 54-20. Baca tossed in a 54-yard touchdown run one play after a Hot Springs onside kick, and with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter, the game had been decided. The Tigers, despite their leadership at quarterback, just couldn’t get the ball rolling.

“They were tackling good in the second half,” Paz said of his defensive line. “They stepped it up pretty good.”

The win was an emphatic one for the Warriors, and should give them some much needed momentum heading into a tough district matchup with Silver this weekend.

The second-ranked Colts will be coming off a loss to top-ranked St. Mike’s of Santa Fe. It will also mark the last regular-season game Paz and his fellow senior classmates will play at Warrior Stadium.

“For all of the seniors on the team, it’s going to be emotional,” Paz said. “Everyone in the state always wants to win their senior game. And considering it’s against Silver, it’s going to be a tough one. We’re just going to come out, play our hearts out and hopefully we’ll have a good outcome.”

Socorro will play host to the 6-2 Fighting Colts at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2 at Warrior Stadium.